ALERT: Summer

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to feel pretty behind on Summer. It’s mid-June, I’m wearing tights, and my scorecard looks like this:

Barbeques: 1
Sunburn: 1 bout, mild, on the shoulders
Afternoons spent laid out on the grass: Half
Times at which sunglasses were genuinely needed: 1
Magnum ice creams: 756*

So, amen to this. And amen to Nathan Rao at The Express for saying it:

weather

Get the razor and fake tan out, gals.

Apparently “temperatures are poised to skyrocket over the next 48 hours as a plume of sweltering air sweeps in from the tropics”. Say no more, Nathan. If you, like me, are now panicking about your lack of Summer preparation, here’s a selection of lovely fun items you can pick up from supermarkets and retail parks on your lunch break, for emergency barbeques and frolics that are long overdue. They’re all pretty cheap, too.

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Strawberry napkins, Sainsburys; BBQ napkins, Sainsburys; Grey picnic rug, Wilko; Pink faux plant tray, Primark; Citronella bamboo torch, The Range; Fruiti wine goblet, The Range; Three ice cream cones, Wilko; Havana stripe bowl, The Range; Pineapple glass jar, The Range; Glow in the dark mushroom stake, The Range; Floral bunting, Wilko.

* Never weather-dependent

Forget burgers: The tasting menu at Marmadukes Town House Hotel

I’m never one to turn down a big greasy burger or a pile of pie and mash after work, but this kind of indulgent dish that makes you want to hibernate, then diet for the next year, seems to dominate city centre restaurants these days.

Last night, to celebrate five years since we first met, we treated ourselves to something completely different – an eight course tasting menu at York’s Marmadukes Town House Hotel. The chef is Adam Jackson,  who serves up a selection of complex, seasonal dishes that change every month or so, and with them he has recently been awarded a 3AA rosette by the AA Restaurant Guide.

Marma

Without wanting to sound over the top or tell you something you don’t already know given the 3AA hint above, it was immense. We got to try a velouté, I conquered my fear of mussels and just got to CHILL over amazing food for three hours. We felt like John and Gregg on Masterchef.

On arrival, we were shown to ‘the red room’, full of ornate old sofas, side tables and chandeliers, and served drinks from a selection of wines, spirits, classy cocktails and – if it’s your thing – a selection of more expensive rare wines. Each course on the menu has also been carefully matched to a wine, and these can be included with your meal for £48 per person.

We went for a modest beer and glass of wine, keen to save space for the main event – a feast featuring oriental nibbles, marmite butter, cookie crumb, and ‘hen of the wood’ to name just a few. They were all presented so beautifully that I can’t not include photos of each and every one:

Nibbles: one of the best miso soups we’ve ever tasted, along with tuna tartare and a lovely chicken bite with puffed riceMarma1

Lancashire Bomber – Marmite – Cucumber: A just-right warm cheesy bread roll with a fresh pickled cucumber and marmite butter. I’m not a massive cheese person, had never tried pickled cucumber and can’t say I crave Marmite, but this was delicious.

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Pork – Hen of the Woods – Peas: This was one of my favourite dishes – tender pork ravioli with a gorgeous meaty sauce, the velouté, small but really great crispy croutons, and mushrooms.

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Salmon – Asparagus – Mussels – Samphire: And this was Paul’s favourite. Beautifully cooked salmon with the best crispy skin, topped with what seemed like salty shoestring fries and resting on a bed of samphire, mussels and a delicate creamy sauce.

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Beef – Provençal: This was a beautiful, lightly cooked cut of beef with an oxtail sauce and hints of flavours from the French region of Provence. Olives and baked tomatoes nestled among green beans and lovely squashy gnocchi rolled in parmesan.

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Lemon – Mint – Blueberry: All I could say about this dish, after slowly weaving through the different elements, was that it was so interesting. Not at all in a sarcastic ‘interesting = weird’ way, but in a way that the chef combined so many different flavours and textures. There was a blueberry compote, chewy mini meringue, a sugared crispy mint leaf, a minty mousse, a sharp lemon custard and a citrus ice. It was great.

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Chocolate – Beetroot  – Hazelnut: I was looking forward to this *shock* The treat in the middle is a beetroot and chocolate sorbet on top of the richest dark chocolate cookie crumb. On top of the creme fraiche is a kind of beetroot crisp, which was sometimes crispy and occasionally chewy. The best bit for me was the crumb and the little hazelnut dots, which had a great smoky, almost burnt taste that added yet another element to the dish.

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And finally, for Paul only, was a cheese course with crackers, truffle, almonds and the most amazing carrot cake. It’s inspired me to make some this weekend, although maybe I shouldn’t given the size of my stomach after all that.

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The service and surroundings have to get a mention, too. Each course and every little detail was described by the restaurant team and we were given plenty of time to let each one settle (and/or undo our top buttons) before moving on to the next. I’d happily eat out less often to try more tasting menus like this.

We paid £60 each, plus drinks, and would highly recommend a trip. Find it at: Marmadukes Hotel, 4-5 St Peters Grove, Bootham, York YO30 6AQ.

Revealed: The new bathroom

It’s been a couple of months since we nervously chipped the first granny tile off the bathroom wall, and – after a lot of grouting, a leaky toilet and two attempts at choosing flooring – we can now declare this new, fresh bathroom officially open. What we had was perfectly fine, but tired and old fashioned. Here’s a reminder:

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And here’s what we have now:

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bathroom

Paul and his dad deserve a special mention here, for tiling, grouting and laying the floor, and generally saving us loads on the cost of professional fitters.We also got the trendy metro tiles really cheap, having seen exactly the same design for much more in shops like Topps Tiles. We haven’t had any issues with the quality and they look great.

We also removed and scrubbed the taps as they were clogged with limescale, so bath time is officially back on, and added some aqua accessories to lift the blue.

Tiles: Metro white wall tiles (16p/tile) from Stone Trader
Grout: Silver grey ready mixed grout (£7.69/1.5kg) from Topps Tiles
Vinyl flooring: Carpetright (£13.49/m2) from Carpetright
Paint: Maritime Hush by Valspar
Towels: From a selection at Home Sense
Handwash and toothbrush pots: Asda
Artificial plant: Asda
Candles: From a selection at Home Sense

Why ageing’s actually ok

What’s the definition of ‘ageing’? If it’s a sound, surely it’s a groan. Or simply ‘meh’?

Anyone who has felt their first unexplained back twinge, or is carefully monitoring that could-be-a-crow’s-foot crease by their left eye, has the start of a typical relationship with ageing, and the mindset to go with it. Not surprising really – no-one looks forward to the day that their nipples finally tuck into their knee-high boots.

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But I saw an article earlier that turned ageing on its head, with a positive approach that you don’t see very often. It talks about the ages when you peak at certain things in life, and there’s far more to whoop about after the age of 30.

If you’re 23, you’re probably feeling pretty satisfied with life. If you’re 25, give a nod to your muscles, which are at peak strength. At 39, girls, you’ll hit your top salary, and your emotional intelligence is on fire aged 51:

7: Learning a new language
18: Brain processing power
22: Remembering names
23: Life satisfaction
25: Muscle strength
26: Finding a partner for marriage
28: Running a marathon
30: Bone mass
31: Playing chess
32: Remembering faces
39: Salary (women)
40: Making a Nobel Prize winning discovery
48: Salary (men)
50: Arithmetic skills
51: Understanding people’s emotions
69: Life satisfaction (again)
71: Vocabulary
74: Happiness with your body
82: Psychological wellbeing

I’ve never thought about my approach to ageing, but I know for sure that it’s instinctively more negative than positive. A process that leaves you with a moustache regardless of your gender and takes away your loved ones will always be rubbish. But, as a 30-year-old woman working in an office where the air still smells faintly of Clearasil, I need to give it a chance. So here we go – a little positivity to ease those aches and pains. Ageing is good because:

You have skills
You can remember you’re hosting a dinner party mere minutes before your guests arrive, and thanks to your finely tuned cooking skills and exemplary ‘cupboard staples’, pull it off with little more than tinned tomatoes and a smile. The same goes for small talk, which becomes a breeze somewhere around the region of 25, and homely skills like keeping pot plants alive for more than two weeks. You’ve done it all before and can think about more important (or fun) stuff.

You can get away with disgraceful behaviour
When older, and generally assumed to be a parent, stressed by work, tired of commuting or just busy with life, you can do what the hell you like and kind of get away with it. If you want to have friends over, drink copious amounts of wine and fall asleep on the sofa at 11pm, they’ll probably do the same and you’ll all be massively relieved. If you want to hit the clubs and behave disgracefully on top of a table while your mascara melts down your face, everyone smiles at you and thinks you’re just a stressed old person letting off steam.

You have a stash of cool stuff
Gone is the flimsy bargain furniture, having been replaced with classy statement pieces, and your wardrobe is a haven (well, realistically still a chaotic mass) of basics and investment buys.

You give less of a shit
In our teens, everything’s so concentrated. Life consists of school, what’s for tea, and attempts at romance. And cider. With age comes distractions. Work, meet family, meet money, meet worming the cat, meet pensions. It doesn’t mean you give less of a shit in the moment, but there’s less time to dwell and think about things. And thinking is sometimes a BAD thing!

You know who your friends are…
… and you’re not afraid to tell them. By the time most people have had pointless but longstanding disagreements with a couple of school friends and lost touch with others, you’re left with a small bunch of great friends. You know who to go to with a dilemma, who will indulge you with cake and sympathy, and who to take out dancing. You’re also over the awkward teenage years of pretending that you don’t do emotions, so are able to show them that you care and kind of love them, really. *Flushes bright red*

How do you feel about getting old? Good, bad, or just meh?

 Stats from Business Insider

The 10 Women-to-women Commandments

We had a BIG focus on our relationships with men last week. You might not have noticed it as it was pretty low key – International Women’s Day? Haha.. of course you did 😉

It goes without saying that days like this are really important and need to happen. I haven’t known one to date that was quite so noisy and full of ferocious feminism.

But it made me think that, while a lot of things still need to be evened out in the men vs. women battle, there are other relationships that need just as much care. When we finally hit that equal pay mark, or agree on what anyone should and shouldn’t be told what to wear to work, we’ll still have our precious relationships with other women to watch. These relationships – some of which rival relatives in terms of closeness, and others which are volatile and unpredictable but just right when you need each other – have just as much of an impact on us every day.

So, in honour of our complex female friendships, here are ten women-to-women commandments that we should all live by:

Thou shalt not… express opinions on her boyfriend

The moment you express a stronger than average opinion on a friend’s significant other, you’re into hot-hot-hot danger territory. We all know this – she’ll love your foul-mouthed rant about what a loser he is and how you’ve always thought his bum/voice/facial hair questionable when she’s fresh from a blazing row with him. But wait for it… … … wait for a call to say they’re back together. #FACEPALM. All of a sudden, you’re the bad guy, despite your good intentions. By all means, express opinions, but keep them to things he has done, rather than insulting him personally. Vague words like ‘may’, ‘seems like’ and ‘perhaps’ will also soften even the harshest insults you throw in the heat of the moment, giving you a little feminine wiggle room when he’s been (temporarily) forgiven for his sins.

Thou shalt not… buy the same top

match dress
Pic: pasteldress.com

There are two levels with this one. If it’s a flimsy £20 crop top that will go to shit the first time it’s washed, it’s probably OK. But only if you point out in all photos for at least a month that your fabulous top was inspired by your right, honourable friend. And whoever had it first gets all the custody rights. You copy, and you’re the one sending the ‘what are you wearing?’ texts to avoid a twin situation. However, copy the expensive coat, boots or generally coveted, expensive item, and you’re treading on toes.


Thou shalt not…
flaunt snacks during diet season
Whatever the time of year – #dechox, pre-holiday season, the day before you usually bump into the fit postman – there will always be someone on a diet. Male or female, show a bit of restraint and make it a bit easier for them. They will sense the second you walk in the room that you have a chocolate bar, they’ll be listening to the rustle of the packaging and they know how good it tastes.. but they don’t need your moans and gasps to tip them over the edge.

Thou shalt not… bail on a gym class

BJBefore you even reach the worst part of this scenario – sweating it alone and turning into a shiny, purple mutant incapable of speech – there is the huge risk of saving gym equipment for your gym buddy. Like any good friend, you get your own space or mat, save one for your partner in crime, and stand guard. Ten minutes later, after you’ve told 14 people that this is your friend’s mat, actually, with a glare, and you’re left doing your workout alone, you become the dedicated class lunatic. There’s no going back from this. Smash your walkouts and plank for days, but your rep is down the drain.

Thou shalt not… blank frazzled female drivers
Call me sexist, but I’ve never seen a man lose it at the wheel. I’ve seen them angry and aggressive but never emotional. I, on the other hand, have my moments of hand waving or angry pouting if I’m under pressure and no-one in the world will help me out. This situation becomes instantly and significantly worse if the driver refusing to let you in is female and blatantly ignores you in your moment of need. Roads are dangerous and rage makes them worse – back off and help a girl out.

Thou shalt not… ignore a make-up disaster
browsI’m not talking about the blatant, can’t-look-away-from-them eyebrow disasters on the Mail Online. There’s no excuse for these and the offenders should not need to be told what’s what. However, innocent women caught up in an early start, or suffering from lack of make-up application space on the train should always be told if foundation or eyeliner has gone rogue. The same goes for stray pen, spinach in teeth and bogies. I’m quite bad at this (telling people, not bogies), in that I’ll notice it and look at it but not think to actually mention it?! I’m due some bad karma at some point in life. But the long and short of it is, you’d want to be told, so go forth and break the news.

Thou shalt not… share awful photos on Facebook
As long as you’re still open to the idea of mixing beer, porn star martinis and Prosecco in one night – or in fact, an innocent but lengthy bottomless brunch – you’re at risk of questionable photos. The severity of the photos almost certainly improves with age – anyone under the age of 25 will do anything with a lamp post for a good shot – but merely blinking while eating a salad can have catastrophic results when captured on camera. Standard protocol seems to be removing the truly awful shots and uploading the rest without tagging the offenders. Anyone who tags and laughs is going down.

Thou shalt not…steal her baby name

OUCH. This is of course going to be controversial. If she has a name in mind for her future children, the chances are, they have featured in every romantic dream sequence of her adult life. Take away that name and the dream sequences are gone forever. Mix in some strong female emotions, a hint of drama queen and some sort of flailing girl fight in the street, and you’ve basically ruined her life. HOME WRECKER.

Thou shalt not… reveal the big secrets
gossip
Pic: Brainjet.com

We’ve all sworn to keep a secret, only to then get swept away in the drama of it all – a la Trevor McDonald – and let it all come spilling out five minutes later. I think as a girl, you learn what kind of top secret info will make it round the rest of the group by lunchtime, and which info has a chance of staying between the two of you. The dodgy crush or a snippet of work gossip can probably get out without too much hassle, but let the biggies slip through the net and you lose your confidante status.

Thou shalt not…bring a gal down
On the average day, we’ve got enough on our plates. Work, relationships, lifting weights, avoiding carbs, period pain. The last thing anyone needs is a real-life scene from Mean Girls. This is where we (sorry) can probably learn from the boys, as they help us onto a level playing field. They’re experts at having a chat, having a row, generally hitting each other a bit, until whatever issue is sorted out. We, on the other hand, like to turn things into a mystery novel. Not always that helpful 😉
So, over to you. What would you note down in your list of women-to-women commendments?

The home wishlist

Do you have a room or feature that you’d love in your future home?

I remember falling madly in love with Cher’s outfit planner and revolving wardrobe in Clueless. So much so that I spent a (wasted) afternoon trying to draw every item of my clothing in Microsoft Paint, so that I could create something similar…

The impact of the new Cher, when I started watching Sex and the City, was similar. I’m sure, even if Carrie’s colour or clothing tastes didn’t suit every viewer, we all wished for a space dedicated to dressing, preening in the mirror and generally feeling fabulous. We all work so hard that a hint of self-indulgence every morning as we get dressed is an essential.

wardrobe

So, while we don’t, and probably never will, have the space or budget to go all out with a dressing room in our house, it makes it onto my future home wishlist:

  • Dressing room
  • Huge, open plan kitchen with sofa for entertaining
  • Roll top bath looking out through a floor to ceiling window
  • A view – hills, sea or city

In a bit of a showgirl mood (hence the feathers below), I planned out my dream dressing room. Naturally, it involves some sort of my standard blue and grey colour scheme, but pulls in more dramatic gold elements and luxurious textures like velvet. A dark wooden floor would pull this all together, with one wall in cream and gold wallpaper (Kelly Hoppen at Graham and Brown), and the rest in B&Q’s Blue Thistle. Statement features like the Arhaus mirror and lights, and lots of little hits of bling add the kind of opulence you can really go for in a dedicated dressing room.

dressing-room

Lovely items from:

Blue Thistle paint, B&Q; Geo wallpaper, Graham and Brown; Letter hooks, Dunelm; Mirror, Arhaus; Hemisphere chandelier, Arhaus; Velvet sofa, Next; Crushed velvet cushion, TK Maxx; Yolanda rug, Made.com.

What room or feature would you have in your dream home? Share it in the comments below – I can’t help with it, but it would be interesting to hear!

14th February: The plan

I’m going to say it.

VALENTINE’S DAY.

Are you feeling that funny slash hopeful slash ‘am I bovvered?’ feeling yet?

We are all the same. Single or coupled up, half of us KNOWS that the cards and teddies are a huge money-making scam, yet the other half secretly hopes for a bunch of one hundred roses, delivered in a very public place by swan…

If you don’t want to go down this route, here’s a selection of activities for Tuesday, 14th February – SHOULD YOU WISH TO DO SOMETHING – that don’t have to involve scratchy fancy underwear or awkward end-of-date kisses.

Drink
If any sort of enforced romance, or the lack of it, makes you reach for the alcohol, make it a formal thing. Leeds’ Lazy Lounge holds wine and gin tasting sessions every Tuesday. Grab your partner or your partners in crime and you’ll get an introduction to wine, a taste of seven varieties, and a selection of well-matched nibbles to bring out the flavours.

Wine tasting £20pp, gin tasting £25pp, from 6:30pm at Lazy Lounge, Unit D, Westpoint, Wellington Street, LS1 4JY. (Photo credit: godine.co.uk)

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Haters
As a nation, we are excellent at moaning, so it was only a matter of time before someone mixed our skills into a dating app. Sign yourself up to Hater and you’ll be matched with people who hate the same things, including tuna, the word ‘moist’, weed and Taylor Swift. It’s only available in beta form on iOS at the moment, but there are plans in the pipeline for Android.

Churros
I love a good binge at Cielo Blanco, but when it’s rounded off with churros, one can look a little bloaty once home and in the nude. Not ideal if you have plans for a night of passion. This year though, you can try a number of new superfood mains, including superfood tacos, a warm kale and broccoli salad with toasted nuts and a poached egg, and avocado and black quinoa toastadas. You’ll also get a free bottomless superjuice with superfood dishes, to give you a glow regardless of your relationship status.

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Queerology
This year marks the 50th anniversary of homosexuality being decriminalised in England. Now that’s romantic. Queerology showcases all sorts of artwork by LGBT and Queer artists in and around Leeds.

Queerology at Aire Place Studios, Units 2c, Aire Place Mills, Kirkstall Road, LS3 1JL. Open 12 – 5pm until Monday 27th February.

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Culture
Take a seat (and snacks) to the West Yorkshire Playhouse, for a “radical” take on Pygmalion, written by George Bernard Shaw in 1913. It’s the story of professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins, who makes a bet that he can train Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess, starting with impeccable speech. This new version brings in more video and sound technology and asks questions about today’s class identity and social behaviour.
Pygmalion at West Yorkshire Playhouse, 14th February. Tickets £13.50 – £30.

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Skate
You can approach Leeds’ Ice Cube rink with two mindsets. For romance, cling onto each other and complement your pink cheeks with a cute bobble hat, or rejoice in falling over and bruising most of your limbs while showing no sympathy as your fella or friends hit the deck. The rink, its Snowslide, Starflyer and Glacier Run Simulator, plus the new Ice Jet, is open ’til 19th February.

Go ghost hunting
If you really want to go anti-romance, go on one of York’s famed ghost walks. The Original Ghost Walk of York starts every night outside The King’s Arms Pub, and will combine the city’s history with gruesome stories of its past.

The King’s Arms Pub (Ouse Bridge), at 8pm. £5 for adults, £3 for children, students and concessions. (Photo credit: imgarcade.com)

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What are your plans for Valentine’s Day? Doing anything different?