Sunday, 25 March 2018

Nigel Slater: The Christmas Chronicles

I have daffodils in a vase on my table.  I have Easter Eggs waiting to be freed from their foil wrapping and to be eaten.  The clocks have gone forward.  The weather presenters are talking about Spring Equinox.   And this is one of my favourite times of year.

However, I'm still reading a certain book by a certain author who has made me fall back in love with winter.  And that’s Nigel Slater, with last year’s offering of The Christmas Chronicles.

It’s all a bit topsy-turvy, me writing about winter as spring is trying its hardest to break through, but with the recent bouts of Beastly named weather storms, it has felt that winter has been elongated somewhat and so I’ve felt justified in continuing to read Nigel’s tales of mid-Winter bliss.

I guess I’ve taken winter for granted somewhat over the years, judging it on face value of dark days, biting weather, the stress of fighting with Christmas crowds, it’s easy to wallow in the negatives, but Nigel’s wordsmithery has made me see the beauty of what winter offers and I’ve thought – he’s right!  It is wonderful!

The Christmas Chronicles follows the rhythm of a diary, each day from November to February is written with recipes, anecdotes, memories, fables, fairy tales, traditions (both widespread and Nigel’s own) for that particular point in winter, with a good measure of history and fact too.  As the days roll further into December, for example, there is plenty written about the preparations for Christmas.  From Germanic Christmas Markets (their stollen, nutcracker soldiers, magical decorations), to the purchasing of ingredients for the ideal Christmas cake to the art of elegantly wrapping gifts through to enjoying the serenity of a crackling fire and candlelight.  At other times, it is about what is around you, he revels in the joys of country walks under arctic blue skies and the grinding crunch of footsteps over freshly fallen snow.

Yes!  I love all those things too and deep down, I always have.  His well-written, fabulously articulated prose has helped me realise this.  So thanks Nigel.

The Christmas Chronicles will now join my festive literary repertoire of go-to books for old favourite recipes and inspiration when yuletide rolls around again. 

But as we nudge the parameters of Easter, I'm happy to let spring and summer bask in their glory first, they've waited a long time to visit us again.  And rest assured, winter will be here again before you know it and it'll be time to dig out The Christmas Chronicles

Friday, 2 March 2018

Review: Zou Bisou Cafe

Last Sunday's bitter chill and biting cold air acted as a dress rehearsal for the arrival of the 'Beast from the East' or the nightmare that is Storm Emma.  It led my friends and I to take shelter rather than to stroll round Jephson Gardens in Leamington Spa as originally planned.

Leamington Spa (or Royal Leamington Spa if you please), bears similarities of Cheltenham with its formation of white facaded Georgian buildings and huddled amongst the high-end retailers are a wealth of eateries and coffee houses.  A string of those are in Regents Court, tucked behind the main thoroughfare of The Parade.

Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Piling into Zou Bisou Cafe, we were lucky to find a table for four, seemingly it is very popular with young families and students with laptops who took up much of the table space.  Clearly they didn't fancy Jephson Gardens either.

The menu is quite concise with crowd pleasing pastas, sandwiches, jacket potatoes, bagels etc with a range of drinks and smoothies and even a daily specials board.  A big thumbs up for their vegan range  of 'milks' and cakes which will serve them well for those who are continuing with Veganuary.

Ciabatta Sandwich
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

We all had different things, but I had a warm Mediterranean Vegetable & Houmous Ciabatta Sandwich served with crisps and side salad.  The ciabatta was good quality and had a nice, firm crust and it was bigger than I anticipated so that was a bonus.  The vegetables within were well cooked.  If I was being picky, I would've preferred chips instead of crisps, but with hindsight, it probably saved me a few calories so not a bad thing.

I had the Broccoli, Mango, Spinach and Banana Smoothie served in a jam jar style glass tankard.  Very green, but very delicious.  I wanted something other than water so this fitted the bill well and was packed with vitamins so another benefit.  The old lady on the next table was somehow perplexed by the whole concept of juiced broccoli and wondered why I'd go for that instead of a mug of tea.  So much so, she interrupted my conversation with my friends to show her husband who'd returned from the toilet what I was drinking and he too stared at it with awe.  I didn't convert either of them to green smoothies but for one can vouch it was good and again, a decent sized portion.

Creme Egg Brownie
Photo: Word In Veg Ways

Talking of portions, when ordering my sandwich etc initially at the counter, I couldn't take my eyes off the Creme Egg Brownie.  I found myself post-sandwich, unable to think of little else so counter-acting all the goodness of the smoothie I had, I had to have a slice and with the suggestion of having it served warm, well, that justified the whole transaction and I applauded myself with good decision making skills.  A very good sized portion, it was nice and gooey with the trickle of fondant from the Creme Egg, what's there not to like?  Two friends having food envy bought a slice too.  We all sat there murmuring contently with each mouthful.

All in all, a very nice eatery/cafe, cosy, casual, with a good amount of vegetarian and vegan choices (especially cakes).    

I would definitely go back but to be coupled with the need to walk off my cake afterwards in Jephson Gardens.  But I think I'll wait first for a sunny day ensuring that Storm Emma and her Beastly Eastly companion have 100% blown away....


Note:    I funded all costs for the meal myself with it being my choice to blog about my experience.  The venue was not  informed that I was visiting or aware that they were being reviewed.