A lovely summer evening at The Railway pub…

You know those lovely evenings out that happen by accident, when you have nothing planned and the sun is shining? Well we were lucky enough to experience exactly that at The Railway pub in Cheltenham a few weeks ago.

Picture a really hot Tuesday and as usual James was doing some DIY on the house (just casually single handedly laying a patio this time) and I was trying to stay comfortable and cool in the heat whilst doing a little gardening at 37 weeks pregnant. We decided late afternoon we had done enough and needed a rest so I suggested a drink in a beer garden somewhere would be nice.

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 A proud man and his patio

Off we toddled just over the road to The Railway, a pub which fairly recently has changed its food menu from sausages to Thai and I had on my list to try one day. We took Jack the dog as he likes The Railway, there are dog rugs to lie on, a nice shady beer garden and treats at the bar. We settled down for our one drink mid afternoon to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere while playing a few board games which are also in abundance near the bar. Now I understand that board games are not to everyone’s taste but it is safe to say that we are fans of a board game night and a pub with a good selection of games always goes immediately up in my estimations!

One drink turned into three and I noticed when I went back to the bar they started serving food at 6pm…so I did the deadly thing of asking for a menu “just to have a look”.

I had heard very good reviews about the food and everything on the menu sounded delicious, we decided that we have nothing in the house to eat that we fancied and why not make a night of it and eat out. So without further ado I ordered pretty much the whole menu and we sat in the early evening sun and stuffed our faces with the tastiest food I have had in ages.

 

The food is served tapas style and comes out when it is ready, with the idea being you can share plates and savour every dish at its best. The food is smoked and BBQ’d over applewood and oak which gives another level of flavour and as the dishes arrived, served with a smile they all tasted fabulous. We had smoked chicken satay with peanut dipping sauce, sweetcorn bean fritters, Koisoi BBQ chicken northern styled yellow curry with Thai picked lettuce, hiosin aromatic duck pancakes, roti bread and spicy prawn crackers.

The chicken curry was a revelation and tasted not to dissimilar to a massaman curry which I think is one of the tastiest things on earth and if I ever had to choose my food heaven it would certainly be up there…..that or a proper beef roast dinner depending on what mood I am in.

We snuck some of the last bits of duck to Jack and left feeling stuffed full and happy.

I cannot recommend The Railway enough, not only for the amazing food which has been well reviewed by many local food bloggers but for the atmosphere. It is one of those rare local gems which is comfy, cosy and unpretentious but totally delivers on good beer, service and food quality.  A top place to choose for one of those rare nights out with no plans that end up being the nights to remember for a long time.

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chicken with satay sauce

You can’t do epic stuff with basic people….

I have been meaning to write this blog for a while and now I am on maternity leave I can finally indulge and reflect on the whole experience. I have always loved watching grand designs and the journey that families embark on when they are striving to finish a project which has so much invested in it is enthralling to me. Houses are so much more than bricks and mortar and I always hoped that one day I would meet someone who had the guts and know how to be able to do a project like that and who wasn’t afraid to think and dream big….

Passion and creativity are always strong personality traits in the people involved in these projects and I can safely say after a year and a half of observing and helping where I can that the Old School House project certainly required these in abundance.

The story began when we were house hunting around Cheltenham for James’s first property. We looked at all manner of houses, big, small, old, new but when we saw the Old School House it immediately felt ‘right’. It is a lovely old building in the middle of Cheltenham and was converted to living abode in the 1990’s. It is a building that has soul and although it had been converted in a quick, cheap manner James could see the potential to strip it back to its former glory and expose the double height windows and beautiful beams.

The house was purchased on the first of July 2016 and the project began.

We discussed ideas for the house and the purple carpets and flowery curtains were soon removed, walls were dismantled and ceilings were lifted to expose double height spaces in the two bedrooms and most spectacularly in the living room.

Everything was done room by room as we were also living in the property so had to keep some sort of normality as the house was slowly transformed. The spare room was done first in which we then moved all our things while the main bedroom was finished. In both bedrooms there were beams which had been painted black, this took more than a lot of chemicals, elbow grease, sanding and more elbow grease to remove and when they were done revealed a beautiful oak finish.

The floors were also finished in oak and the same floor goes right through the house apart from the bathroom and half the kitchen which are stone flags. Every single aspect of the work was done by James apart from the plastering and some electrical and plumbing stuff. It is something he has never done before and is a testament to not only his self belief but skill that the house is finished to such a high standard and with such care and attention to detail.

 

Downstairs the double height windows were revealed and stripped back to Cotswold stone with oak window ledges installed. The whole house has been stripped back,  insulated and then re-plaster boarded and then plastered. Spot lights decorate the cosy fire area in the living room with the other half being a double height eating area lit by a wagon wheel light fitting also made by James. There are also buttresses which have been exposed in Cotswold stone which are nestled into corners adding a rustic charm to an otherwise perfectly plastered and painted wall.

It was the summer of 2017 that the house really started to take shape and friends and family were more and more in awe of what had been achieved in such a short space of time, a Cotswold stone fireplace and log burner was installed and then we could start planning my favourite part so far …the kitchen!

The house renovation took a whole new turn at this stage though as we found out in true Grand Designs style that I was pregnant, if you watch Grand Designs then you will know that nearly everyone gets pregnant while the house is being built! So while we didn’t have a kitchen I was going through the first 12 weeks of pregnancy feeling decidedly peaky on a daily basis and managing with a makeshift kitchen in the sitting room was something I tried to embrace but I must admit did test my resolve for a few months.

True to James’s word the beautiful kitchen was finished in time for both sides of the family to come round for Christmas dinner and we were again in awe of what this man has achieved. The kitchen is exactly what I wanted, rustic charm with a big range cooker, open shelves and lots of work space. Christmas dinner went down a storm and it felt lovely to finally let the pregnancy cat out of the bag, onwards and upwards to the last room in the house the bathroom.

I was dead set on having a free standing bath and after much measuring and head scratching it was decided that we could not only fit one in but also a separate shower, the bathroom was bought online and James set himself the timescale of February half term to get the whole job done, with the help of a plumber and his dad to get some of the tiling done. This turned into ridiculously long days of meeting deadlines for the plumber etc but true to his word it was done and in working order ready for moving back in after the school holidays.

We have spoken about our hopes for the future and I am looking forward to being able to enjoy this house for a few years but I think James has well and truly got the bug now and has shown his talents for renovation in spades. We would love to live in the countryside one day and do something similar on a larger scale, its no secret that I would happily fill the house and any other space we have with children, dogs and any other animals I am allowed.

As I write this post the garden is still a work in progress and there are things I would love to buy for the house but I have learn’t in the last few years to appreciate what you have and to be grateful for what you have been able to achieve.

So the story continues to who knows where, the only thing I do know for sure is that life is never going to be boring or predictable. Yes I do wake up sometimes and wish we could afford to go on exotic holidays or I wasn’t forever cleaning dust, garden debris or concrete off the floor and James would just take a few days off from DIY. The reality is I wouldn’t have it any other way and I feel life is so much richer for it.

The moral of this story is to never give up on your dreams and you just never quite know what is around the corner… So here’s to the future and whatever adventures it may hold for us and our growing family.

 

An East Indian Cafe masterclass…

Last Sunday afternoon I was lucky enough to be invited along with five other food bloggers to the East India Café in Cheltenham. It was to be masterclass to remember with the theme being a celebration of Bengali New Year.

I really had no idea what to expect, the only thing I was slightly concerned about was perhaps it was going to be a bit of a serious ‘foodie’ cookery lesson and I was going to be out of my depth, I had however been told by work colleagues that it was a fantastic place to eat so the bar was set high before I even walked through the door.

I took along my sister Sally as my plus one and we set off on a very warm afternoon to the restaurant which is only a short walk from our Old School House in the centre of Cheltenham. When we arrived we were greeted warmly and received a welcome drink which was a chilled still juice containing lemon, sugar and mint, very refreshing and set the tone nicely…we were in for a treat!

The restaurant itself is small and intimate, with a modern and fashionable Anglo Indian twist on your standard ‘Indian’, there is a beautiful, brick fireplace which caught my eye full of candles lit to create a cosy atmosphere. Across the wall was a large map of India which was refereed to many times during the afternoon as we were guided through the history of our dishes and the culinary journey India has taken over many hundreds of years.

The amuse bouche followed the welcome drink which was a mixture of red pepper, pomegranate seeds, sweetcorn, various types of bean and spices. Like all the best things in food, simple but deliciously subtle in flavour. We gobbled it up before being guided through how to make the perfect gin and tonic (being seven months pregnant was a little of a hindrance here but I will definitely be using the tips at a later date!) We were handed around some Darjeeling tea leaves to smell and were taken aback by the perfumed aroma, cloves were the dominant flavour and an inspired idea to add it into a gin and tonic we thought. Also added to our own gin and tonics were juniper berries, rosemary, thyme, star anise and Turkish delight! I had a less adult version with homemade raspberry concentrate and it was delicious.

The first starter we were served was a guinea fowl dish named Panta Vat, served in a small bowl with noodles, tofu and roasted broccoli. Again the spicing was subtle and delicious, I could have eaten a lot of this one!

We were then set a little challenge of making the Tamarind khata to go alongside the next course, with guidance we mixed and tasted the ingredients given to us in our groups which included tamarind, green chilli, ginger (which I added far too much of!) salt, sugar and cumin. We eventually came up with something that didn’t make us all wince and seemed to semi please the chef so we were fairly pleased with our achievement.

Onto the second  starter and we sat and listened to the chefs talk about the dish they were about to demonstrate called Mackerel Pakora. They explained that they had eaten this dish for breakfast at Bengali New Year since they were young boys and their stories brought the dish alive. It was mackerel served two ways both cooked with Bengali mustard chutney, one piece of fresh mackerel was fried in a light chickpea batter and the other steamed in a banana leaf under the grill. They were served with cold overnight soaked rice which was a new thing on all of us and complimented the fish perfectly.

The main course was undoubtedly the star of the show, who doesn’t love a chicken curry? This was called Moddhannor Noboborso and we were again guided through the complexities of curry making by the chefs. It was so interesting to see their skill as each section of the curry was explained to us, including the colour of the onions, how to roast the spices to allow the oils to permeate through and the cooking of the chicken to ensure it is succulent and tender. I would put myself in the category of a ‘proper western curry eater’ and therefore like a good bit of sauce which this did not have but it was no less delicious because of it. We were served the main with rice and carrot (a revelation), red onion salad and a roti. Everyone was offered seconds and thirds of everything if you could fit it in, again the pregnancy thing got in the way a bit here (see my previous blog on eating out as a pregnant lady), head had to rule heart and I declined extra portions as I knew there was desert to come and everyone knows you have to save space for desert.

We were served a mango sorbet as a palate cleanser, which I would have quite happily eaten a bucket of as it was simply divine. It was at this point I felt like I was drifting into a food haze and was feeling thoroughly spoilt and lucky to be being served dish after dish of exquisite food in such an intimate atmosphere…..what could dessert possibly bring?

It will be no surprise to you that we were not disappointed, named Kodhur Nadu it was a quenelled Indian sweet with pumpkin, parmesan, cardamon, nutmeg and chocolate. This was served with chilli chocolate dust and pistachio ice-cream.

We were sent away full to the bursting with a doggy bag containing some of their family recipe garam masala and the dry ingredients to make a chai latte. The whole afternoon was a culinary delight, served up with a dose of culture and history, truly a memorable experience and an absolute pleasure to attend, I will certainly be heading back to eat with the masses soon.

 

 

Eating out as a pregnant lady…

I am currently seven months pregnant with our first baby and we are overjoyed and super excited for what the future will hold.

Over Easter there have been a few opportunities to eat out, this is definitely one of my favourite pass times and like to make the most of every opportunity. By this I mean if it is socially acceptable to eat three courses (i.e. other people on the table will join me) then you can bet your bottom dollar ill be eating a starter, main and pudding.

Now…pregnancy is lovely and there is so much to enjoy about the journey but eating a lot in one sitting is not one of them! I am yet to learn to a) not choose something on the menu stodgey/huge and b) not to eat until I am fit to burst like I would have happily done pre pregnancy.

So when my mum came to visit last weekend and she asked me to book somewhere nice to eat on the Saturday night I saw this as an opportunity to find somewhere I could have an enjoyable eating experience without leaving feeling like I need to lie down (not like that will help due to the delightful acid reflux!).

I did some research and found that Koj in Cheltenham has had good reviews so I booked us a table. When we arrived our coats were taken and we were shown the drinks menu, on which I was pleased to see were some non-alcoholic cocktails and green tea which I drink a lot of nowadays and find it helps digestion.

The menu was small and consists of little dishes to share with a quirky take on Japanese cuisine. The staff were attentive and brought the food out tapas style as and when it was ready. We found the edamame beans an entertaining appetizer as they have a tendency to shoot across the table when eaten, we also had the cabbage and padron peppers which were all fresh and full of flavour.

We plumped for the soft shell crab and duck leg buns which despite the ‘not for sharing’ note on the menu two of us managed to try a bit of both and they were both delicious. A good way to try soft shell crab if you are new to it like me as it is in a bun and covered in mayo so looks less scary.

An absolute revelation for the grazing dishes was the root vegetable and tofu oden with a light mushroom sauce which had a lovely umami taste and was addictive. We also scoffed the fried chicken which didn’t dissapoint and also the Japanese bubble and squeak (who knew?).

The desserts come as small bites and are just what we needed to finish on a sweet note, the sticky toffee pudding was as good as I have tasted (and I have had a few!) and I finished the meal with some green tea.

I left feeling ‘nicely full’ and felt like I had not missed out by trying to be good and order something small and light or missing out on courses. I would highly recommend to fellow pregnant ladies for a special occasion or as the prices are not too steep just for a nice meal out.

As I go through this amazing adventure that is pregnancy and every thing feels like a learning curve you have to hold on to the small victories and visiting Koj was definitely one of these.

 

A busy weekend of tasty food…

This weekend was full of house renovation stuff and eating lots of amazing grub, the kitchen is taking shape and we now have all the wooden floor down, skirting boards and radiator in situe. The trickiest step was probably heaving the ridiculously heavy radiator outside to clean with the garden hose as all the dust had got into the nooks and crannies and was not shifting with the sponge poke technique. This probably left the neighbours wondering what on earth we were doing as the cast iron radiators which we bought are known as the heaviest things on earth and my puny attempt at a comedy lift leaves me safe in the knowledge that weightlifting is definetly not the sport for me.

The next step in the kitchen is the slate floor in the area where the kitchen cupboards will sit, I can’t believe how much James managed to get done this weekend and only a few cuts and bruises to complain about afterwards.

We did manage to fit time in to go bowling (which I lost in quite some style so as little said about that the better), eat noodles at Bar and Wok and try the new Five Guys burgers both of which are in Cheltenham and super tasty. I had the large plate of king prawns with teriyaki sauce and a side of tempura vegetables at Bar and Wok the main was delicious and I replaced rice for noodles. The tempura vegetables were a bit stodgey and not what I would call tempura batter but all were still eaten with a horseradish dipping sauce. The Five Guys was a lovely surprise and extra toppings were free which was great and I maxed out on this with fried onions, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomato sauce and jalapenos….one pointer if you are thinking of heading there though- the ‘standard burgers’ are double beef patty and ‘small burgers’ are single patty. I found myself waiting for our food and watching the slick operation of food preparation thinking OMG those double burgers look huge and a rather greedy option to discovering I had in fact ordered the double patty burger and eating the whole lot turned out to be less of an issue than I had anticipated.

So on to today and waiting for our beautiful new range Smeg cooker to be delivered and as usual delivery companies think I am more than happy to wait in all day for delivery, hopefully it will be worth the wait.

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Beautiful kitchen floor in progress

Cooking for a crowd in a makeshift kitchen.

So last night we had one of James’s work buddies over with his lovely girlfriend for supper, my challenge was to cook dinner for four people with only a table top oven the size of a microwave and no running water. You may wonder why we put ourselves in this predicament but it was decided we would serve up dinner long before the kitchen renovations started and I am not going to complain about the renovations of my new beautiful kitchen happening sooner than expected!

So I put together an easy tapas starter with buffalo mozzarella, sausages coated in wholegrain mustard and honey, sun dried tomatoes, focaccia bread with balsamic and olive oil dipping sauce. The main was chicken pieces roasted in rosemary, honey, lemon, butter and olive oil with a Greek salad and roasted potatoes. Then the desert was a Jamie Oliver inspired frangipane puff pastry tart which went down a storm. All in all I think we did pretty well and our guests went away full and happy……although washing up in the bath is not something I am enjoying at the moment, roll on nice new kitchen!

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We live in an old school in the centre of Cheltenham, my boyfriend James is in the process of renovating this beautiful old building and I help where I can (mainly making the tea!).

My day job is teaching which I love but I have always wanted to have a go at having my own business related to food. I have many ideas but have started with a street food stall which I sell Posh Pancakes from and have done a test day at the Cheltenham Market which was really popular.

As I am writing this James is putting the floor down in our new kitchen and I am sat in front of the fire with some jacket potatoes in the miniature oven for lunch.

Watch this space for updates on our adventures in the Old School House Kitchen and recipe ideas….below is a few pictures of our home and also our delicious dinner from last night which was a ridiculously easy salmon and harissa with vegetables cooked en papillote (cooked in the miniature oven!)…..I love the colours and it was so tasty.