26 January 2011

Say Cheese please

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If you love cheese but always end up making the same selection over and over again it’s about time you headed to La Cave a Fromage to crank up your taste buds a few notches. Having recently opened in Hove, this double-fronted cheese specialist offers food lovers a choice of over 200 cheeses and caters for those of us whose palates crave new flavours and love variety.

Tiers of Cheese
Having supplied such celebrated clients including Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons, Eric Charriaux and Amnon Paldi are already established as experts in their field.  They are passionate about introducing everyone to the wealth of different cheeses that are available across France and in the UK in particular and are keen to support small farmers and keep the traditions that go into cheese making alive. 

Their enthusiasm and commitment are contagious and at the tasting session we were not disappointed.  Served up enticingly on a slate slab were a selection of hard and gooey cheeses, each accompanied with a description of its pedigree and a carefully chosen wine.

Their choices brought surprising tastes to your palate, with the stand out favourite going to Banon from Provence and completed with a glass of Cuvee Marianne red, 2004 from Chateau Saint-Louis-La-Perdrix, Costieres de Nimes. This may sound really specific, but that’s what it is all about when you venture away from the cheese trilogy; cheddar, red Gloucester and Wensleydale with Cranberry, and a whole world of flavour, expertise and passion is unleashed.

The number of cheeses I could wax lyrical about are endless, so I’ll just suggest one more combo to look out for, try the Stilton matured in port from Leicestershire with the Moscatell, 2005 from Mas Estela, Costa Rosa. Oh, I do love a bit of Moscatell.

Every other Thursday, you can book in to attend a tasting session and benefit from their cheese based wisdom for yourself or visit their website and seek their expert advice, type in your favourite cheese and they will advise you which wine would best complement it.  Calories? who's counting?

La Cave a Fromage

20 January 2011

Twitter - what's that about?

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As a subscriber to the sign of Taurus, probably a double Taurean at that, I’m a bit of a plodder and resistant to change by default, hence why I am only just coming round to the idea of twittering, is that what it is called when you follow a tweet btw? To this end I thought I should ask a young pal of mine who has the whole thing sussed. And as I thought perhaps there might be a few others out there who were also born under Taurus, or just haven’t jumped on the band wagon yet, I thought I’d post up a question and answer session.

Introducing Shane Andrews,

Ginger gadget boy from Cardiff. Works in transport. Loves music, Radio 1 and men.

Dislikes tea, coffee & mayonnaise.

Likely to be found in Tesco or a pub / club.


Twitter name @gingio,

Number of Tweets 17,914,

Number of followers 823,

Number following 1,028,

Listed 35 (what does that mean?)



Let’s get down to it:

A’right Shane, wha’s occurring’! Why did you start twittering? And what does listed mean?

Hiya Sar, it’s generally referred to as ‘tweeting’ by the way. I started tweeting because I began to notice it mentioned more and more in the media. Admittedly at first, I didn't use it much at all, but it was getting mentioned more and more on the radio. All the DJs were asking people to 'follow them' on twitter and David Dimbleby, the host of 'Question Time' started mentioning twitter a lot in quite an amusing way through lack of understanding of what it was. He was rather uncomfortable in explaining to viewers to join in with the debate via twitter. He used to mention ceefax, the text messaging and then with twitter in the equation he just seemed somewhat confused, with long pauses between trying to explain how to join in and follow the @bbcquestiontime account or use the hash tag #bbcqt. Hash tags are twitter's way of discussing the same subject and way of keeping track of the conversation. You include a 'hash tag' in your tweets and then this tag can be searched for.

So I thought to myself "well, if programmes of this calibre are joining this website, lets join it and check it out". I'm pleased to say even David Dimbleby understands what it is now, probably thanks to the amount of tweeters who regularly tweeted every Thursday night with things like "PLEASE EXPLAIN TO DAVID WHAT THIS IS!!".

I'm listed, as you've noticed at the time of this interview, in 35 separate lists. People have their own interpretation of what a list means, for example, I have made one named "People I know for real" in which I add people who I know personally i.e. personal friends. So, if I wanted to log on and just see what my group of friends are talking about, I'd just click on that list which effectively filters my feed to show only what my friends who are tweeters have tweeted. Before twitter lists were launched, amidst a lot of hype, it was really difficult to keep track of certain people's feeds - so lists are basically a way of keeping twitter a lot more organised.

How long have you been tweeting?

I signed up for twitter on 26th January 2009. It's not a case of me ticking off the dates in my calendar or diary either, the official iPhone app lists when somebody joins twitter on their profile.

On average how many tweets do you post a day?

It's hard to put a number on it really. Some days I tweet a lot, other days I tweet a little. It all depends what I'm doing on the day, but generally I tweet at least a few times a day.

Roughly how many tweet responses do you get and what are the best responses you’ve had?

In terms of best responses, that is difficult to define. I'll give you perhaps a 'top 5' of different examples.

• I lost my best friend from school to cancer in 2010. It was a tough time for me, I didn't think I'd be affected as much as I was. I decided to do something to raise awareness and decided I'd participate in a cancer research event, which was a full marathon, to be completed walking only and overnight. I'm please to say I raised £970, of which I'd say around 15% is because of the generosity of people I communicate with on Twitter.

One guy, Mark, lives in Boston USA, and sponsored me twice for quite considerable amounts each time. He also stayed awake late into the night in his time zone to tweet me regular words of encouragement throughout the gruelling 26 mile challenge. It was such a help when I felt so low and was close to hypothermia. So much so that at the last checkpoint, I had to argue that I wanted to continue as the staff wanted to stop me. Crossing the finish line, cold, aching and with very sore feet was an incredible and emotional experience, with crowds of people cheering me on and a local radio DJ shouting words of encouragement from the stage as well as live on air!

• On a similar personal note, I discussed quite a bit with regards to my friend with a few individuals on Twitter, though in private via 'Direct messages' (which is kind of like a private inbox). One guy I was tweeting with was going through a difficult time himself, with a friend that was ill, so I tweeted some support to him. He wanted to thank me and as a professional autograph dealer, he offered to get me an autograph of any celebrity I wanted. As it happened, he was off to try and get autographs from a few people like Zac Efron who were visiting Radio 1 and then he was off to Leicester Sq to wait along the red carpet at a film première for the likes of Angelina Jolie and more. I'm a massive Radio 1 fan, so thought I'd try my luck and asked him for an autograph of Scott Mills and Greg James, my two favourite presenters. Low and behold, I got them in the post a few days later, complete with photos to prove that they had written them to me and it was thanks to the power of Twitter. It cheered me up no end. Scott actually follows me now too! (they actually wrote my twitter username on them!!!).


Scott Mills

Greg James


• I won 2 returns to Paris with Eurostar, which I'm yet to use, for promoting something that they were working on. I tend to tweet about public transport occasionally as I work in the industry.

• Sarah Brown (Wife of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown) has tweeted me on a few occasions for example. It all started with an innocent tweet whilst in London which went something along the lines of "Just off to Westminster, lovely evening so time to walk. Will have a look at Downing St but doubt Sarah or Gordon are in". I had a reply within the hour saying "No sorry, we're away, but we do enjoy regular evening walks along the Thames - hope you enjoy too". I know for a fact it was the real Sarah Brown because her account was often mentioned in the media and had a Verified by Twitter logo'. She regularly posted photos and also changed the username after leaving number ten, from '@SarahBrown10' to '@SarahBrownUK'.

• Carol McGiffin from ITV's Loose Women mentioned me on the show thanks to a tweet I sent her (informing her that Robbie Williams joked in a radio 1 interview with Scott Mills that he'd like to go on holiday with her). Robbie was on the show recently and she actually asked him about his comments, thanks to me notifying her of the radio interview I had heard.

Would you say 823 Followers is normal, how did you get so many Followers?

I often wonder the same thing. I'm a firm believer of quality and not quantity and I have some very lovely people following me, whom of course I follow back and tweet with regularly. Some people follow me as they like what I tweet about, others follow me as I've been recommended to them. Each Friday is 'Follow Friday'. You tweet who you would like to recommend others follow so generally Friday would be a day that followers increase, although I've watched my followers slowly increase over the past few months on an almost daily basis. Of course, some people go too. The number constantly fluctuates.

As part of Follow Friday, some people like to list user ID's of who they recommend whilst others like to give individual recommendations. With the latter, I really have received some lovely compliments, but the most repetitive comment I get is the fact that I'm liked because I reply. Some tweeters, especially those with a high follower number like to just tweet and either reply selectively or not reply at all - rather ignorant I think. Can you imagine if it was an office situation? You make a comment, 20 people reply, yet you ignore them all other than 1. I don't think it would go down very well or that you would be very popular for long!

Can you only tweet on twitter?

Not at all. More and more websites are offering social network integration, for example, if you read a story on BBC News that you would like to share with others, you just click the 'Share on twitter' or 'Share on facebook' logos, and the story gets published on your account. I often share stories from my BBC News iPhone app. You could also link up your Facebook status's to be posted on twitter simultaneously - though I disagree with this option and think Twitter and Facebook should remain separate.

Where do you mostly tweet from, your phone or computer?

Mainly from my phone - it's so easy to do on the move.

Do all your friends tweet as well?

Nope, hardly any actually. Possibly why I've become so hooked on it, although more and more people I know are slowly joining. I've read somewhere that it's predicted more tweets will be sent than text messages within 5 years. I really do think this could become a reality, possibly even earlier than the 5 year estimate.

Have you ever had information fatigue?

Not that I'm aware of!

What are the pitfalls to watch out for or are there any downsides to tweeting?

Erm... I'd say be aware of fake celebrities if you want to use it to follow them - make sure they're verified or that their own websites or TV programmes etc have mentioned their username.

I don't think there are any downsides, as long as you're open to listening to people's opinions. People will often feel the need to question a tweet or your opinion or perhaps offer a differing view which in my view makes the whole experience more interesting. Only last night I tweeted "Save EMA (Educational Maintenance Allowance) and TAX THE BANKERS!". Immediately a banker from Ireland tweeted me saying "I'm a banker and I work hard for my bonus". We then began to exchange tweets with regards to my views and his views.

I'm not against bankers receiving a bonus, or anyone at all. I receive an annual bonus which is taxed and I believe that others should do so too, if they're lucky enough to work for a company that does such a scheme, although I believe a bonus should only be provided if and when the company is in profit.

What advice would you give a new twitterer?

Follow me! I'm always on hand to help 'newbies'. Also, something I often recommend is to search the net for "Phillip Schofield guide to twitter" - the infamous 'Silver fox' wrote an online guide when trying to promote the site on 'This Morning'. It's brief, easy to read and very helpful.

Phillip Schofield's guide to twitter

Another question some people will ask "How do you know it's them?" if they're hoping to follow celebrities. Twitter often add a "Verified" logo with a tick to the top right of their profile, to prove that they are whom they say they are. A lot of people like to pretend they're a celebrity on twitter, but thanks to this verified system, it helps fish-out the fakes. Don't be fooled by those who add their own ticks or verified wording to their profile bio's - it will only appear on a non-editable part of their profile added by twitter.

Where do you go from here?

I can honestly say I don't know. I just want to continue being myself. I don't pretend to be somebody I'm not, my tweets are honest, opinionated and an accurate reflection of my life.


To read the sequel, TWITTER, WHAT'S THAT ABOUT A YEAR ON, click here

16 January 2011

Sushi is not the only raw fish in town

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But we love it, cold sushi and hot saki.  Living in Brighton town, which is not only firmly disposed to pleasurable pursuits but has a dizzying array on offer, including the most restaurants per head of population anywhere outside of London, has a whole host of restaurants specialising in sushi. To help you decide where you would like to spend your hard earned dosh I will give you a bite sized low down on where you can go and eat sushi in Brighton and Hove.

Okinami

Famously co-owned by our favourite Brighton resident, the inimitable Fat Boy Slim, it is situated by Theatre Royal and opposite the Pavilion Gardens. The interior is bright, white and light making it a stylish dining experience. A convenient place to stop and people watch while sharing some hot saki.  Probably not best to accompany with beer and martini cocktails as I may have done one night, which ended up at Browns bar with one friend being told to drink water by the barman before passing out in the toilets, while another told me that he loved me and would some day be worth millions due to investing in China and a couple of tears being shed at the bar (not saying who that was). Then getting a taxi back, trotting to my front door in heels weeping over missed opportunities, overheard by a neighbour I'd never met before, invited in for tea and metaphysical chats and lending her The Secret on dvd.  She moved to the country after that.

Special Offer: Lunch for £5

01273 773777, 6 New Road, Brighton BN1 1UF

http://www.okinami.com/

Moshi Moshi

Tucked away in Bartholomew Square, opposite the town hall, it offers a more intimate setting while still remaining very central. With the best ethical credentials to recommend it, eating here makes you feel worthy and right-on, in a good way. Supporting sustainable fishing and local farmers, go for the Clear Conscience Sushi set for freshly caught fish by their Cornish fisherman (please refer to the title of this blog for my inexplicable love of tongue twisters. I dunno).

Special Offer: Go online to qualify for a monthly draw to win a free meal for two worth £50

01273 719195, Opticon, Bartholomew Square, Brighton, BN1 1JS

http://www.moshimoshi.co.uk/

Sushi Garden

Don’t be put off by the enormous selection of sushi and other Japanese dishes on  the menu. The food is beautifully presented and looks and tastes fresh and delicious. Popular with Japanese residents, dining here feels like the real deal. Not to be missed.

Special Offer: Lunch set for £5.50

01273 727246, 33 32a-33a Preston Street, Brighton, BN1 2HP

http://www.sushigarden.co.uk/

Yo Sushi

With over 30 restaurants in the UK and over 100 dishes on offer, it’s a chain that delivers to its brief of instant food on a conveyor belt, with brightly ringed ‘fun’ plates. The sushi is prepared in the centre in full view of the diners, which somehow feels gimmicky and a bit jaded. Useful as a pit-stop option, but lacks the personal touch.

Special Offer: Blue Mondays with a £2.20 plate promotion

01273 689659, 6 - 7 Jubilee Street, Brighton, BN1 1GE

http://www.yosushi.com/

Mura Saki

Closest for the station up in the fashionable seven dials area, it has a small dining room and offers a good selection of Japanese cuisine including sushi. With its bijou interior, the cafe / bar feels cosy but fills up quickly. A good choice if you live nearby, but not especially worth heading to.

Special Offer: Call direct

08717 040915, 115 Dyke Road, Brighton BN1 3JB

No website

12 January 2011

Things to do for Free in Brighton - Part II

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Step into the Green

Brighton and Hove is famous for its seafront and thousands flock to the beach and pier throughout the year. However, it is also surrounded by stunning countryside, from Ditchling Beacon and Devils Dyke, to the Chattri Memorial and Chanctonbury Ring. They can be reached in no time by bus, car, bicycle or even shank’s pony.

Closer still are the various parks scattered throughout the city, each with its own identity and with something unique to offer.

Listed below are some of my favourites, informing you how to get there and a reason to go there.

1) Ditchling Beacon

South Downs

Where is it?

Take a map and the No 79 bus from the Old Steine

What you will find:

With views over the weald (the area between the North and South Downs), this nature reserve is breathtaking and the home of many varieties of wildflower like the fragrant, common spotted and twayblade orchids.

Did you know?

It is the highest point on the South Downs in East Sussex and was used as part of a chain of fires to warn of invasions including the Spanish Armada.


2) Devils Dyke

Gordon Setter, Charlie

Where is it?

Take a map and the No 77 bus from Brighton Pier

What you will find:
 
With the largest Anglo-Saxon dyke (ditch) in Britain; the chalk grasslands and the abundance of wildlife, including a wide variety of butterflies like the Chalkhill Blue, there is much to take in, so sit back and enjoy the views.

Did you know?

One local legend has it that the name Devil's Dyke originates from the story of the devil who came uninvited to a wedding nearby and was chased away by the guests. In anger the devil ran away and formed the groove of the Dyke with a flick of his fiery tail.


3) The Chattri Memorial

Where is it?

Take a map and the No 5 bus from the Old Steine to Patcham

What you will find:

Set in two acres of garden and surrounded by peace and tranquillity this monument is a moving tribute to the bravery of the Sikh and Hindu soldiers that fought in the First World War. Completed in 1921 this simple white Sicilian marble memorial stands on the site where 53 bodies were cremated before their ashes were scattered in the sea.

Did you know?

The Sikh soldiers who fought in the First World War had no other protection during shell fire than their turbans, worn as a symbol of their faith.


4) Chanctonbury Ring




Where is it?

Take a map and the No 2A from the Old Steine to Upper Beeding

What you will find:

800 feet above sea level and surrounded by a circle of beeches planted in 1760, Chanctonbury Ring was originally an Iron Age hill fort. The settlement was abandoned after the Roman invasion before becoming the site of a temple. Soak up the atmosphere of this ancient spot, steeped in history dating back thousands of years.

Did you know?

The remains of a bronze dagger and a young woman buried over 3,500 years ago have been found there.

South Downs, sea on horizon

5) East Brighton Park

Where is it?

Take the No 21 from Brighton Station to Wilson Avenue

What you will find:

Landscaped in 1925 it provides a vast array of sporting facilities and a camp site on the eastern edge of Brighton. From here you can carry on up by foot or on bicycle into the peaceful Sheepcote Valley and listen to birdsong. Brighton and Hove Council organise walks, including the Early Bird Walk with an expert on hand to identify the different birds.

Did you know?

The trenches in the film Oh What a Lovely War were built in Sheepcote Valley.

Sheepcote Valley

6) Queens Park

Where is it?

Take the No 81 from the Old Steine to Freshfield Road

What you will find:

With the most impressive gates heralding you in, the park dips delicately into the duck pond in the centre. There is a playground and a wildlife garden planted by local herbologist Fran Saunders, who runs workshops and walks.

Did you know?

It was originally a Victorian Pleasure Garden with a German Spa, and was renamed in honour of Queen Adelaide, consort to William IV.

7) Preston Park

Where is it?

Take the No 5 from the Old Steine to Preston Road

What you will find:

There’s an old fashioned rose garden and iconic rotunda tea rooms recently restored, as well as a playground, tennis courts, basket ball court, bowling green, cycle track, cricket ground and of course is well known as the final destination for the Gay Pride parade.

Did you know?

Parts of Preston Park were dug up and used as allotments during World War II

8) Stanmer Park



Where is it?

Take the No 78 bus from the Old Steine to Stanmer Park

What you will find:

Over 5,000 acres to explore, a nursery, a pretty little village street and old church dating from the 1830s and Europe’s first Earthship, (a building that uses energy and rain to provide heat, power and water). The park is so big even Gordon Setters have room to stretch their legs.

Did you know?

The name Stanmer derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘staen mere’ meaning stony pond

9) St Ann’s Well Gardens

Where is it?

Take the No 81B bus from Old Steine to Furze Hill

What you will find:

Awarded the Green Flag, recognising quality and sustainability, it is a favourite of the yummy mummies with its playground, tennis courts, bowling green, pond, scented garden and lots of squirrels (apparently).

Did you know?

It was a popular destination in the 1800s for taking the water from the ‘Chalybeate’ (iron-bearing) spring for curative reasons and celebrated its centenary in 2009.

10) Pavilion Gardens

Brighton Pavilion

Where is it?

Nestled behind the incomparable Royal Pavilion

What you will find:

The most central and well known of Brighton’s parks, winding paths flank cottage-garden flowerbeds, with towering hollyhocks in the summer. It provides a moment of calm in the centre of town, where you can sit on the lawned area and picnic. Or lie back and listen to the buskers, Salvation Army Brass Band and general chatter.

Did you know?

For a plant to qualify for the Royal beds the species must have been known prior to 1825 as well as be resilient to Brighton’s salty sea air and thrive in lime tolerant soil, not much then.

Things to do for Free in Brighton - Part I

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Brighton's Starling Spectacular


Starlings at dusk, from Brighton Pier
Every evening just before dusk, Brighton’s piers host a starling spectacular when the birds gather in their thousands to join forces for protection and to keep warm at night. As they come together from across the Sussex countryside in huge clouds called "murmurations", wheeling and swooping in unison they put on an extraordinary aerial ballet. Come and marvel at this phenomenon in the skies before they swoop beneath Brighton's piers to roost for the night and to which they return to every evening. The sight is most magnificent during the winter months because their numbers swell with migrant birds from the continent attracted by Briton’s milder climate. However, to add poignancy and despite the impressive size of these flocks, crashes in the starling population by more than 70% in recent years means they are now on the critical list of UK birds most at risk.

There is an RSPB viewpoint near the 'Kiss Wall' sculpture.

Britaine: United Kingdom's search engine

The Ultimate Fish Pie recipe

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fishing boat, Brighton marina
There are three levels of success when it comes to cooking an excellent meal:

First - consider it a success when your dinner guests clear their plates

Second - the meal becomes a great success when your guests not only clear their plates but help themselves to leftovers until nothing is left over

Third - you can only consider it as excellent when they ask you for the recipe in earnest, then you can be sure that you've hit on a best seller

That is why this is called the Ultimate Fish Pie recipe; however it does come with a health warning. This recipe will not help you lose weight.

One last tip, this is quite a preparation-heavy pie, so make it at least the day before so you can savour it as much as everyone else when it comes to serving it up.

Serves 6 – 8,
Use a 2.5 litre capacity ovenproof dish,
Pre-heat oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6

Filling:

Smoked haddock 500g fillet with skin
Fresh haddock 500g fillet with skin
Milk 300ml
Bay leaf 1
Sea salt and black pepper
Eggs 4 medium

Sauce:

Unsalted butter 60g
Plain flour 50g
Dry vermouth 150ml
Double cream 150ml
Dijon mustard 2 heaped tsp
Chives nipped to make 6 tbsp
Nutmeg freshly grated

Mash:

Maris Piper, King Edward or McCurdy’s potatoes 1kg
Parsnips or butternut squash 500g
Unsalted butter 50g
Double cream 100ml
Egg yolks 2 medium

Place the fish in a large pan cutting to fit. Pour over the milk and tuck in the bay leaf, season with sea salt and black pepper and bring to the boil. Cover, leaving a gap for the steam to escape, and cook on a low heat for 5-7 minutes until just done.

Strain the cooked milk into a bowl and retain for making the sauce. When cool enough to handle, flake the fish coarsely, discarding the skin (if more liquid is shed at this point, throw it away).

Bring a small pan of water to the boil and hard boil the 4 eggs for 8 minutes, then drain, return to the pan, pour in cold water and leave to cool.

For the sauce, melt the butter in a medium-size non-stick pan over a medium heat, then stir in the flour and allow to seethe for a minute. Gradually add the vermouth, the strained milk, the cream and finally the mustard. 

Bring to the boil, stirring constantly, then set to simmer over a very low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (if any butter separates, stir vigorously until reincorporated). Fold in the chives, then the haddock, then season with nutmeg and taste, adding a little more salt and pepper if necessary.

Transfer the haddock mixture to your ovenproof dish. Shell and slice the eggs and lay the slices over. Cover and leave to cool completely – this prevents the mash topping from sinking in.

For the mash, peel the potatoes and halve or quarter if large. Trim, peel and halve the parsnips or butternut squash. Boil the potatoes in salted water for 10 minutes, then add the parsnips/butternut squash and cook for another 15 minutes or until tender. Drain into colander, leave for a minute, then mash. Add 50g of the butter in pieces and stir until it dissolves, then mix in the cream, the egg yolks and some seasoning. Smooth over the top of the fish, cover and chill the pie.

Bake for 40 minutes until crusty and golden.