Thursday, 31 January 2013

Can I survive a week living on a tenner?

Every month, without fail, it gets to the day before pay day and I wonder where on earth my money has disappeared to. I'm a big fritterer - I buy stuff I don't really need, often spending my hard earned dollar on stuff that's often forgotten about after I've bought it. I love buying lunch at work, I'm a fan of a cheeky nip to the Co-op for a chocolatey snack or two and although I'd probably try to deny it, I'm sure if I looked closely at my bank statements, I'd find that a massive proportion of my salary goes on eating out. I have piles of books and DVDs that I haven't read/watched yet, yet Amazon still swallows my money. Cookshops swallow my money. Nice (but mostly useless) stuff swallows my money. I just don't do budgeting very well at all. There is temptation EVERYWHERE.

It's not just the small stuff, it's the big stuff too. Sometimes I buy really expensive things without really thinking about the consequences. Take last month, for example - I decided to book a holiday and buy a new laptop, with the promise to myself that I'd pop the money back into my savings ASAP. I know full well that this sort of strategy is going to lead to future months of fiscal anxiety whilst I try to replenish my savings, anxiety which could have been avoided if I'd just saved separately for the laptop and the holiday in the first place. And here lies the crux of the problem - when I want something, I buy it.

I wouldn't say I'm in financial dire straits, and neither am I really awful with money. I earn an average salary, of which I put around 16% each month into the eventual house-buying/adventure/rainy day pot. Every week we try to plan our food, meaning that it's rare that we spend over £40 a week between us. I have a decent job, no kids, no car and no real responsibilities. My money is entirely my own and my life is for living.

However, I think it's about time I had a long, hard look at where the disposable cash goes. I can't help thinking that if I cut down on some of the little bits, I'd be able to buy myself a few really nice things - that I actually need - every couple of months and not feel too guilty as a consequence.

With over half of the world's population being forced to live on less than a dollar a day, I want to put my spending into perspective. And that's where this challenge comes in.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Becs Bakes: Bacon and Cheddar Loaves

At Christmas this year, I was thrilled when I unwrapped How to Bake - the carbtastic food porn recipe book by Paul Hollywood of Great British Bake Off fame. Ash - known to many as the world's most sensible man - also kindly gave me the Hairy Dieters' recipe book too, probably in an attempt to ensure that I don't home-bake myself to a coronary. We've tried some of the Hairy Dieter's recipes - which have been good - but let's face it, none of them are ever going to be quite as exciting as Paul's baps and buns.

I should probably just learn to embrace the fact that low carb and low fat does not a happy Becs make. I'm a pretty rubbish dieter, and as much as the Hairy Dieters book is full of lovely stuff, it's also full of lines like "serve with a tiny portion of rice, or half a slice of bread" - which is probably the worst thing you can say to a woman who likes carbs as much as I do.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Goodbye England, Covered in Snow: My week in pictures

Leeds was covered in a blanket of snow at the beginning of this week.  Despite wishing and hoping with all my might, living a ten minute walk away from work means that something magnificent has to happen to warrant a snow day. So, instead of being snuggled up in my pyjamas on the sofa like Ash was come Monday morning, my day was spent gazing out of the window, watching the snowflakes fall from my desk at work. The result was a very pretty Leeds-Liverpool canal and the Round Foundry (a lovely area of Leeds that's full of design and advertising agencies) was a winter wonderland until the snow turned to icy slush. 

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Pigging out - a visit to Friends of Ham

Sometimes, life presents you with a pretty bloomin' awesome day. You know the ones - the kind that make you realise that despite a poorly bank balance, snow on the ground and no sign of the sun setting after 5pm for the next few weeks, everything is actually ok.

Nothing particularly exceptional happened yesterday- it was just one of those good'uns that spring up every now and then. Starting with some exciting stuff at work, it involved some pretty bloody tasty chicken skewers for lunch and ended with a trip to the wonderful Friends of Ham for a long overdue catch up with a good friend of mine.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

A visit to Create: how to feel good about eating out on a shoestring

Living where we do in Leeds city centre, we're very lucky to be surrounded by a whole host of decent restaurants. We're so spoilt, in fact, that sometimes it can be difficult to decide which food haven to choose from when the cupboards are bare or I've had such a busy day that I'd rather tear my own eyes out than cook. However, there's always one restaurant that's right up there at the top of  my list of go-to places that offer great food at an exceptional price in Leeds.  

Create - "where good food and good people matter" - is a different sort of catering business. Their mission is to train people who have been homeless, marginalised or vulnerable and support them back in to work. In a similar vein to Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, Create is supported by a backbone of full-time professionals both front of house and in the kitchen, whilst a roster of Create trainees follow a twelve week training programme that's aimed at getting them back into work, giving them a 'hand up, not a hand out'. Founded a few years ago and spearheaded by Richard Walton-Allen, former head chef at Harvey Nichols, the Create foundation offer a whole range of bits and bobs from corporate catering to a street-food van. They now have two physical premises - a newly opened cafe in Wakefield and a restaurant in Leeds.

Create's Mission Statement

Thursday, 17 January 2013

What can the high-street offer us that the internet can't?

DISCLAIMER: For the purpose of this post, I'm going to be putting my marketing hat on, so apologies if I get a bit jargon-tastic. I promise I'll get back to talking about blowtorches and food soon - and I promise that I'll try to not babble on for too long. However, a bit like carbs, curry and good books, this is something I feel really passionate about - and I think it has a place in my blog somewhere in amongst the other bits and bobs. 

In the first few weeks of 2013, three of the UK's most familiar high-street chains - HMV, Jessops and Blockbusters - have closed their doors for the last time. Add electrical retailer Comet to the mix - which went into administration in December - and that's an awful 18,000 people without jobs and an even bigger number of Twitter commentators who are left  bemoaning the demise of the high-street.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

A carb-loving girl's guide to football

Despite having a boyfriend who could quite happily spend all day every day watching pretty much any sport, I just don't get it. If we lived in a world where cake eating or pie making contests were an Olympic sport,  you wouldn't have been able to tear me away from the TV this summer for either love nor money. In the same way, if football pundits spent more time talking about what Wayne Rooney had eaten for breakfast, or where he was going for dinner that night, I'd probably take more of an interest.

I just find watching sport a bit - well - boring. Put it this way, I firmly believe that if F1 drivers were less concerned with continually driving round in a circle as fast as they can and more concerned with how to make the perfect puff pastry, they'd be a lot more productive and the world would be a better (if not slightly fatter) place.

However, 2013 is a year of trying new things - and by new things, I don't just mean foodstuffs or seeing what my blowtorch is capable of doing. 

Friday, 11 January 2013

Curry and Blackjack - a review of The Bird by Vineet

As you might have guessed by now, I like eating food. I also like talking about food. And reading about food. And going out to new places to eat food.

My colleague and friend (and Diet Coke and cake eating companion) Fay also likes doing all of these things. She runs a brilliant blog - Food Fables  - which is a must read for those of you who live in Leeds and like to do all of these things too. I should probably point out that although Fay currently lives in Leeds, she's off back to her homeland of Newcastle soon - cue massive sob from me. But I mustn't be selfish and Fay's food writing talents must be shared with the rest of the North. 

Anyway, I digress. The reason that I'm telling you about Fay and her love of food is because she's the one that I turn to for Leeds restaurant suggestions - and she's the one that first told me about the Indian restaurant that's the focus of this blog post  - The Bird by Vineet.

After Fay gave me a verbal review of her curry at The Bird over a can of Diet Coke (and probably a slice of cake), I thought I should probably do my very best to check it out. Vineet Bhatia - the proprietor of the Bird - was the first Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin star, so eating there was definitely on my must-do list.

The Bird by Vineet - a classy affair (photo courtesy of
When a voucher for said establishment came up on Travel Zoo for two courses, a side dish, a glass of sparkling wine and a £5 casino chip (all will become clear) for £25 for two, the time was right to splash some cash. 

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Boxing Day

This blog has a little bit of a confusing title. Whilst I'd love to think that my Boxing Day this year was blog worthy, the fact is that it was a little bit boring (although we did manage to do a jigsaw puzzle and I ate some cheese). Instead, the Boxing Day that I'm referring to is writer-director Bernard Rose's film which is currently enjoying limited distribution at cinemas in the UK. We were lucky enough to catch it at the Hyde Park Picture House - and what a treat it was.

Hobbiting around the National Media Museum

I've got a confession to make. Until the other day, I'd lived in Leeds for over six years and I'd only ever visited our neighbouring city of Bradford once - which is a really appalling effort for someone who thinks they know this area of Yorkshire pretty well.

My first ever trip to the city -which is just 8.6 miles from Leeds - happened during the summer that I graduated from Uni. Some of the boys that I lived with at the time decided they'd like to go and see Transformers 2 at the Bradford Media Museum's IMAX. I hadn't started full-time work yet and I was pretty broke, but I was really bored and needed cheering up, so I decided to go too. Wrong decision. I'm not a fan of action films, cars or Megan Fox. It's fair to say that the Transformers 2 experience was well and truly wasted on me. The curry we had afterwards definitely wasn't, however. It was at the moment when I was wiping my plate with my nann bread that I promised myself a return trip to the city that is famed for de-industrialisation, economic deprivation, excellent curries and is UNESCO's first ever designated City of Film.

The National Media Museum

Fast forward three and a half years and I still hadn't been back. However, this Christmas I'd booked an extra week off work - the first time in three and a bit years of full-time work that I'd booked holiday for doing absolutely nothing in (apart from designated blowtorch experimenting time of course). It offered the perfect opportunity to venture over the border - and when I bargained with Ash for a trip to the National Media Museum in return for seeing the Hobbit at the IMAX and a curry afterwards, he was more than happy to oblige.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Why foodie NYE parties for two are the best sort of parties

A New Year's Eve foodie party for two
Christmas 2012 will forever go down in Becs-Ash history as the Christmas of kitchen stuff.

Father Christmas clearly felt that our kitchen needed restocking with a plethora of gadgets to make our 2013 taste wonderful.  From a giant pepper mill and a cheese making kit, numerous cookery books and a blow torch, to a pasta maker and a Kenwood mini chopper, the festive season left our cupboards full to burst with new kitchen paraphernalia to try out. When we returned to Leeds for New Year after visiting family in Essex, I spent the train journey figuring out new recipes to try on New Year's Eve.

Now I don't know about you, but New Year's Eve has always been a bit of a let down. Don't get me wrong, I've had a couple of good ones (most notably NYE '08/'09: an evening which was defined by Ash and his brother Lewis leaving their tickets at home by accident and having to make a mad dash from the tube station, our friend Sandwell getting very lost in a pretty small club, drinking too many £2 JDs and coke and Lewis getting chatted up by a bloke in the toilets - all to the soundtrack of Noah and the Whale...) but all in all, they're more often than not a bit of a let down. And I'm old now Father William (well, 25 anyway) and I've got better things to spend my money on than an average night out.

Bits and Bobs: the beginning

When I was a kid, my sister and I used to love my Mum's 'bits and bobs' lunches. It wasn't until I got to university that I realised that everybody else's childhood  didn't consist of a bits and bobs mid-day snack that was lovingly prepared by their Mum - especially when they were off school sick or having a duvet day during half-term.

Bits and bobs were, quite simply, made up of whatever was in the cupboard, lovingly presented on a small 1980's side plate and eaten in front of the TV (normally either when Sesame Street or Bewitched was on Channel 4). Bits and bobs sometimes contained some chopped up banana and some cheddar cheese, maybe some buttered white bread, some more fruit, a handful of hula-hoops and (if we were very lucky) some chocolate raisins. It was always a complete mish-mash, a complete surprise as to what would be on the plate. A bit like the term 'guggle cupboard'- that was used to describe the messy cupboard under the stairs which contained everything from plasters to tins of beans - the phrase 'bits and bobs' entered our childhood vernacular. If I asked my Mum for some 'bits and bobs', she would know exactly what I meant.
My sister and I, back in the day when Bits and Bobs were rife (I'm the ginger one)