Category Archives: Food/Drink

An Interview With Richard Betts

When the sun is shining what could be better than sitting outside lapping up the glorious rays, with a glass of wine by your side (pinot grigio preferably but I wouldn’t turn my nose up at whatever flavour is offered!) and a good book.  Yes –  wine, sunshine and books come up very high on my list of passions.  Imagine my excitement at discovering a book – not just any book – “The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide To Becoming A Wine Expert”.  Scratch’n’sniff books … I can remember having a couple as a child where you could scratch the picture of a strawberry or an orange and a most delicious scent was emitted. Probably showing my age! I had a chat with the enterprising American author and winemaker Richard Betts to find out more…hi Richard, please introduce yourself 🙂image

No way. Okay, my name is Richard. My most lofty ambition is to smile and to make other people smile. I endeavor to do that by making wine and spirits easy and part of your every day life. See, I’ve got this ‘-ism’ that “Wine is a grocery, not a luxury” and if I have my way you will live by it too.

Believe me… I agree with that “ism” too! I’m going to jump in straight away & talk about your book – “The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide To Becoming A Wine Expert”. I used to love the scratch & sniff books as a child ..and I’ve approached this book with as much glee! What was the inspiration behind the writing of this book?

Whelp, there is for sure no shortage of lengthy wine tomes on all subjects and I have nothing to add to that. BUT! Wine can sometimes be too stuffy and exclusive which stinks. I think the best way to engage and welcome is to knock wine off the pedestal, make it easy and make it fun and what better way to do that than with a Scratch and Sniff wine book?!

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When did you first discover the delights of wine and the realisation that you wanted to become a wine expert?

Living in Italy in the 90’s. I was totally blowing off my academic life and instead just living life – learning to speak Italian, to cook, to eat – and wine was an inseparable part of this. The table is not set until there is wine upon it and this matters.

In 2003 you passed the Court of Master Sommeliers’ Masters Exam on the first attempt, being the ninth person ever to do so – congratulations! So you do know your wine! What was the hardest thing about the exam did you feel and what do you think is the stumbling block that makes it very hard to pass the exam at first attempt?

The hardest part is for sure the tasting. Service and theory are more in your control because they are studied and you either know it or don’t. Tasting is different as we are different people every day. You know, we all have good and bad days and when you get one chance at taking the test you’re not really allowed to have a bad day, right? So the key is figuring out what are the ingredients that best set you up to have a great day and then making sure you heap them on when it’s time to perform. (For me that includes exercise, loud music and a beer.)

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Tell us a bit about My Essential Wine and your “as a grocery & not a luxury” ethos.

My ethos of “Wine is a grocery, not a luxury” was born out of that time when I was living in Italy and there was always wine on the table, at lunch, at dinner, without fail. It’s just a part of the whole. (Smart.) After selling my first wine project, Betts and Scholl, I wanted to start another project that really made good on my -ism/ethos and, thus, My Essential Wines. The idea is you’ve got twelve bucks in your pocket on a Tuesday and I’m your date! It’s that easy. The wines themselves (we make rosé and red) are also wines I love to drink because, after all, if you don’t drink them I have to and I’m prepared to do that so I might as well make what I like.

You are a fan of Bordeaux wine and having holidayed in that region of France for many years I, too, share your enthusiasm. What’s the origin behind the name of your Bordeaux wine, Saint Glinglin?

It too is an -ism, a French -ism for “When Pigs Fly” and it became the name of the wine when I told good friend Erin Chave that I was going to make great Bordeaux and make it cheap to which she replied…. 🙂

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You are currently touring the USA promoting your book, drinking and sharing wine. I am sure you are having a whale of a time! What do you enjoy most about being on tour? Any funny tales you can relate to us about life on tour?

Well, my girlfriend and I gave up our homes, flew to Miami, bought a car and called it home for 4 months. It was amazing – we drove all over this beautiful country and met the most amazing people. As a guy that flies so much, it was wonderful to slow down and actually take in what you’ve been flying over – I treasure the experience and hope to repeat it when we release The Essential Scratch and Sniff Guide to Becoming a Whiskey Know-It-All this coming fall.

What is (are) your absolute favourite wine(s)?

Any wine that tastes like a place. This is key, it’s the intellectual value of wine that can transport you around the world. It’s sometimes called terroir – a French term meant to describe everything that goes into the wine, that informs it and is specific to only that place in the world from whence it has come.

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Travelling to visit different countries and their vineyards – which place surprised you the most with its wine? which place have you got a soft spot for? which place would you love to visit and sample its wares?

Surprised, always, by Australia – there simultaneously exists a ton of tradition and a ton of innovation. It’s always better and always interesting. This, of course, makes it a favorite of mine too. I’ve also got a soft spot for the whole of France as well as Piedmont, Tuscany and Friuli in Italy. Oh wait, I have to also add Sherry in southern Spain – I have never been more amazed at a wine region and it’s wines. Very little has changed in forever and the wines are magic – for sure the best food wines on earth.

Your book is the perfect gift for a wine enthusiast! Is it available to purchase outside the USA?

Yes and I have no real idea how. I was recently passing through Vienna airport and there was a huge stack of them for sale. Which was cool 🙂

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Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?

Nice Jeans like Simon Miller or Raleigh Denim. Vans, flip flops (favorite) or boots. I have a really beautiful pair I bought 10 years ago in France that are still the most perfect pair ever. And t-shirts. Easy.

Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?

Raleigh Denim Workshop and Simon Miller are both really special. In Rome, I love Strategic Business Unit and in Paris, it’s always Merci.

What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?

Just ordered some stuff from Entree LS in Brooklyn, we’ll see how it is. Thinking Spring so always fresh sneaks too. Lots of them.

Boots or Shoes?

Boots or hi-tops – they’re just comfy like a warm hug.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers of the blog can learn more about you and Essential Wine

www.myessentialwine.com is where we do wine things, I also make mezcal in Oaxaca,Mexico and you can check that here: www.sombraoaxaca.com AND we have something super duper top secret and very small happening in the way of a single new wine I’ve been working on for more than 10 years. Best to follow along via @yobetts on twitter/instagram/fb to catch the announcement very soon.

As the sun beams down on my part of the UK this Friday evening, I raise a glass to you Richard for chatting to us! I wish you continued success & look forward to sampling your new wines… Readers, have you got a fave wine? What “scratch & sniff” book would appeal to you? I’d love to know what you think!

Linda x

All photographs have been published with kind permission from Richard Betts.

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Spotlight on East Shopping Centre

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Saturday 14th March 2015 sees the grand opening of not only London’s latest shopping centre but it is Europe’s first purpose-built boutique Asian shopping centre, East Shopping Centre, based in Green Street, London E7 – not far from West Ham’s football ground and Newham’s other recently built shopping centre, Westfield Stratford. Following its successful soft launch on January 24th 2015, East Shopping Centre has generated around 200 jobs for the local area as well as injecting much needed enthusiasm for shopping locally. Built on the one acre site of the former bus depot, the centre has retained its original facade but has incorporated the latest eco friendly touches such as solar panels, water flow restrictors, and carefully resourced building materials – protecting resources and saving money too. Green Street has always had an important trade and cultural heritage – my own mother bought her wedding dress from a Green Street dressmaker back in 1962 – and East Shopping Centre hope to build upon and become part of that heritage too.

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So, what’s inside the shopping centre? Major Asian fashion outlets are represented including Zarkan of London, Andaaz Fashion, Memsaab, Imaani London…plus other non fashion companies including Urban Chocolatier and Coffee Republic too. There is a “souk” comprising of smaller, local stores selling everything from costume jewellery to mobile phones – menswear, shoes, bags…

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Overlooking the shopping centre is a spectacular food court where you’ll find food delights such as Piri Piri Chicken from the Roosters chain, desserts and mocktails galore from Lost Asia, American-style burgers from Brioche Burgers… getting hungry?

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Being indoors, the centre is ideal as an all year round shopping venue and with its late night closing time, your shopping pleasure is not hurried.

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So, as I was saying, Saturday 14th March is the official opening day and from 12pm West Ham MP Lyn Brown will be cutting the ribbon. There will be lots going on – the centre will be creating a mela atmosphere with music, dhol players, face painting and much more. East Shopping Centre is also offering raffle tickets giving one lucky winner the chance to win a luxury weekend holiday for two in Dubai, £1000 gift voucher to spend at East Shopping Centre and two iPad Mini 3’s. The first 100 people to arrive on Saturday will receive vouchers to the food court worth £10. All proceeds raised from the raffle will be donated to Masoom, a locally based charity that supports vulnerable women and children around the world.

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East Shopping Centre can be found at 232-236 Green Street, London E7 8LE.

For more information, you can follow East Shopping Centre via their website – www.eastshoppingcentre.com – or via Twitter @EastShopping; Facebook: East Shopping Centre; Instagram: EastShopping

Hope to see you all there! Happy Shopping!

Linda x

All photos have been published with kind permission from Puja Vedi

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An Interview With Spa Sweethearts W.I.

Happy New Year!  At the start of every New Year most people make resolutions – lose weight, stop smoking, join the gym, etc.  The resolutions made, often reflect our need to enhance our lifestyle by becoming slimmer, healthier and ultimately happier. Your resolutions can also include stimulating your mental wellbeing by starting a new hobby or joining a group…such as the Women’s Institute.  The W.I. are celebrating their 100 year birthday in 2015 and despite its “Jam and Jerusalem” image, young ladies whose average age is nearer 30 than 75 are joining groups and having a ball. I’m chatting to a lovely young bunch of ladies from the Spa Sweethearts W.I. this week about why they joined and is it all about Jam and Jerusalem…. Welcome Becky…image

Hi! My name is Becky Warburton, I’m 26 and I’m the president of Spa Sweethearts Women’s Institute in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. In my day job, I’m the Student Activities Manager at the University of York Students’ Union, which basically means I organise extra curricular activities for students while they study.

The Women’s Institute is celebrating its centenary this year. What was your initial incentive to become a member?

I’d just come back from uni in Newcastle and a lot of my old school friends had moved out of Harrogate. I wanted to do something that would help me get to know some new people, so my mum and I went along to a meeting. Within a few months, we’d both joined the committee, and I’ve been president since February 2014.

I imagine a lot of people perceive the WI as being all “Jam & Jerusalem” with an average age of 75 and with the saucy antics of the Calendar Girls. I am sure that there are groups like that in the UK but not everywhere is that the case. Being a group of women in their thirties who are very active members how do people react when you say you’re a member? How did you join – was it via word of mouth, out of interest,etc?

Yes, whenever I say I’m in the WI, people look a bit confused, then they either ask me if I can make jam or they make some reference to stripping off for a calendar. With 100 years of history, it’s a shame that that’s all people can think of! There’s so much more to it than that.
The WI has done a lot of campaigning over the last century and has done an enormous amount of good for society. The jam link actually stems back to the Second World War, when there was a huge drive to preserve fruit and vegetables, so WI members made a lot of jams, pickles and chutneys to help the country get through food shortages. In the 1950s, they launched a drive to reduce littering which was the beginning of the Keep Britain Tidy campaign group that has just celebrated its diamond jubilee. More recently, campaigns have been about things like increasing the number of midwives to make childbirth safer, and supporting local businesses to make sure our high streets survive the recession.
I heard about Spa Sweethearts at the Great Yorkshire Show as I visited the WI ‘tent’ to find out some more information and see if there was a group local to us. One of the advisors mentioned the Sweethearts and I knew immediately that that was the group for me.

So what do enjoy most about being members of the Women’s Institute? Have you a favourite activity that you do as a member of the Women’s Institute?

I really love the sense of community that I get from not only being a member but also from working alongside my amazing committee members. They never fail to make me smile, even after the worst of days at work! But I also enjoy learning something new and different every month and getting to step outside of my comfort zone every so often.

Baking and jam making still are popular pursuits, and joking aside, the Women’s Institute do know how to bake and make jams. Even TV shows like Masterchef call on the Women’s Institute for judging events. Be honest, how’s your baking? Are you expected to have expertise in culinary skills or an interest in that field?

I love baking and I’m not too bad at it, but not all of our members are. A lot of them have other talents, like sewing or knitting. Some aren’t interested in that sort of thing at all, and that’s fine too – we’re a very diverse lot! But we’re all pretty good at eating the cakes even if we can’t make them ourselves.

What benefits do you feel that the Women’s Institute could offer the lady in her 20s,30s,40s,50s?

When Spa Sweethearts was formed, the ladies from the WI who guided us through the process told us “The WI is what you make of it” and we’ve found that to be completely true. If you want to join the WI to learn traditional skills like baking, jam-making and knitting, you can. If you want to find an outlet for your campaigning side, you can do that too. You can be part of your community just by turning up to meetings, or you can use the meetings to invite people from your town or city to tell you about what they do, such as charity workers, police officers or even unusual things like forensic scientists. There’s no limit on what you can do with your meetings. We try to make our programme as varied as possible, so everyone can find something they’re really interested in, but we also encourage our members to come to all the meetings even if they’re not so enthusiastic about the topics. Quite often, people find they have a hidden talent that’s only uncovered by giving something a go for the first time at a WI meeting!
Of course, many people also come along just for the social aspect – to have a chat and a cup of tea, or even something a bit stronger. The great thing about the WI is that there are thousands of branches, so whatever your age and interests there is more than likely one to suit you. And even if not, you can just start your own – you only need three ladies!


What famous lady would you love to see strutting through your doors asking to become a member?

This is a really tricky one! Well the obvious answer is someone like Mary Berry, as I think our members would love a master class with her! But then I would have to say someone like Giovanna Fletcher, who is one of favourite authors (and also married to Tom from McFly!) because she loves so many aspects of the WI like baking and crafting as well as sharing her opinions through her many social media platforms but she also writes about a traditional WI in one of her books, Billy and Me, and so I would love for her to experience a Spa Sweethearts meeting to show how diverse we are as an organisation and the amazing things that we get up to.

Going back to the Calendar Girl reference – that must have been quite a giggle and at the same time it did stir some interest in the Women’s Institute as well as the charitable aspects of it all. Have you had any funny moments that you can tell us about at WI?

Nothing quite as headline-hitting as that! Our committee meetings are always hilarious – we have lots of work to do organising our monthly meetings, but we have such a laugh as well. One of my highlights was actually from the very first meeting I attended, which just so happened to be on jam making! It was led by two members of our federation who have been members for years and years and who were just this incredibly funny double act, telling us all about the organisation and why they love it so much and I just thought to myself, if I’m still involved at their age and enjoying it as much, then I’d be pretty happy.

Any advice to any ladies wishing to join the Women’s Institute? How should she go about joining?

Do it! The easiest thing to do is to go onto the WI website, www.thewi.org.uk, and put in your postcode to get a map of all the WIs near you. Alternatively, search for your nearest federation (regional office) and give them a call – they’ll be able to tell you which WIs are most likely to suit you in your area. Get in touch with one and find out when their next meeting is, then just go along. Most WIs let guests come to their meetings for a small fee, so you can try before you buy! And membership for 2015 is only £36, so if you do sign up for a year it’s really good value.

What outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing at a meeting?

For me, it’s whatever I’ve been to work in as I never have much time in between getting home, grabbing some dinner and getting to the meeting, to think about changing. I’ll usually just be in jeans or something comfy as there is often a fair amount of setting up or cleaning to do before and after meetings – we all get quite stuck in with that.

You must have had many inspirational speakers visit your group – what speaker or topic did you feel was the most inspiring for you personally or inspired the group as a whole?

One of my favourite and more inspiring meetings was when we had Dee Marshall, from Welcome to Yorkshire, come to speak to us about Le Grand Depart in June 2014, about three weeks before it arrived in Harrogate. I’ve become a massive cycling fan since London 2012 and so was incredibly excited about all these world class cyclists racing through the streets of my home town. I’d also signed up to volunteer at the finish in Harrogate and so to hear Dee talk about how they had won the bid and all the preparation that had taken place was really interesting and made me even more excited to volunteer and be part of something that made me so proud to be from Yorkshire.

What’s next on the Women’s Institute event calendar for celebrating the 100 years?

There are loads of events planned to celebrate the centenary. We’ve got a lot of competitions going on for WI choirs, an official centenary fruit cake, heirlooms which can be passed down the generations… And there will be a couple of focal points in the year. Our national AGM is in June at the Royal Albert Hall and there will be lots of celebrations there, plus there’s a three-day WI Centenary Fair in our hometown, Harrogate, from 3rd-6th September, when WI members from around the country will be descending on us to meet up and celebrate.
At Spa Sweethearts WI, we’ll be going along to as many of the events as we can, but we’ve also got our own centenary fair planned for mid-September. We’re hoping to have lots of traditional elements like baking and craft competitions, but of course we’ll be putting our own spin on it as usual. It’s all part of our year-long campaign to get to 100 members of Spa Sweethearts in the WI’s 100th year. We want to prove there’s still plenty of life in the WI, and to get younger women in particular to put aside their preconceptions and come to a meeting with an open mind. It’s our way of making sure the WI will still be around to celebrate its 200th anniversary!
I’ve also launched a Twitter campaign under @WomenoftheWI. Every week, a different WI will take control of the account and tweet about their week – hopefully including live tweeting their meeting. The aim is to show how diverse our membership is, and how many amazing and wonderful things are going on around the country every week. The interest from other WIs in taking part has been really encouraging and I’m so excited about seeing how it all pans out.

Boots Or Shoes? 

Completely depends on the time of year but spring and summer I live in ballet flats as they just go with everything and are so comfy, but then as soon as autumn and winter hit, I live in boots. I’m someone who gets very grumpy if I get wet feet, so I’ve got to keep warm in the winter months.

Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers of the blog can learn more about your Harrogate group and the Womens Institute in general.

Our details are:
www.spasweetheartswi.co.uk
www.facebook.com/spasweetheartswi
www.twitter.com/spasweethearts
www.twitter.com/womenofthewi
You can also find a lot of other WIs on Facebook and Twitter, as well as the national accounts:
www.twitter.com/womensinstitute
www.facebook.com/theWI

Thank you Becky – I’m sure that you and your fellow WI friends will encourage many other younger ladies to take the plunge and go and find a group to suit them. It sure sounds that you have lots of fun and I wish the whole WI organisation a fabulous centennary year!  

Linda x

All photos published with kind permission of Becky & the ladies of Spa Sweethearts W.I.

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Pink Heaven – An Interview With Cuppies ‘n’ Cream

1254This week I’m delighted to welcome onto the blog the talented Natalie from Cuppies ‘n’ Cream, home of exquisite and delicious cupcakes …… Hi Natalie, please introduce yourself:4

Hi, I’m Natalie, I’m 30 years old (eek) and I live in Wokingham, Berkshire. I am originally from York but have lived down south for 8/9 years now. I do still have quite a broad Yorkshire accent though! I run a bespoke cake and cupcake company called Cuppies ‘n’ Cream.
I loved your cakes when I saw you at the Northampton Shoe Museum – how long have you been making cakes?
I have always enjoyed baking & have been making cakes, biscuits and treats since I was little.  My mum often reminds me that she would often come home to find I’d baked cupcakes (or buns as we called them then) – I’d have added something completely random from the cupboard and use up all the butter too. I remember the first time I discovered food dye and made some horrendous green cupcakes!233
Your cakes are extremely yummy – where do you get your inspiration from for the flavours and topping ideas?
I love trying new flavour combinations and will often use seasonal fruit and fresh produce. I believe in using real flavours rather than artificial ones. I often visit food fairs and will buy treats for myself and then develop a cupcake/cake flavour from that too. Sometimes some flavours may seem quite strange but they actually work really well. I like certainly flavours to be strong too. For example I love lemon cakes to be really zesty and strong or coffee cake to blow your head off a little 😉
What’s the most unusual flavour cake you’ve made? Have you had any strange flavour requests?
The most unusual flavour that I have made would have to be chocolate and Mexican chillies! The customer was specific that I had to use Mexican chillis.  Whilst this is becoming a more popular flavour now at the time it wasn’t so people were a little thrown with it! But, it did taste very yummy with a lovely kick to the icing. 
To date, what has been your most popular cake?
My most popular cake flavour has to be chocolate fudge.  Its super moist, decadent and of course full of chocolate!
What’s your favourite cake that you have ever made?Alice1
My favourite cake has to be my Alice in Wonderland tea party cake.  It was very time consuming making all the little pieces, but was really good fun and I struggled to hand this cake over!
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I would say I go for quite classic styles, A-line dresses and skirts, heels and ballet pumps.  I love vintage dresses and have recently been searching for these. I’ve found some beautiful pieces and love how they fit. I’m a typical English pear shape (big hips and a small waist) so find these styles suit me so much more. I love cropped chinos with blouses and little blazers too. 033 (640x580)
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?
My favourite shops… oooh this is a hard one! I would say that overall I love French Connection (for pretty summer dresses), Reiss (for trousers and blouses), Topshop (for vests and tees), online I love shopping at Aldo as there isn’t one local to me, Notonthehighstreet, Etsy for one off pieces and of course my new found love of vintage boutiques.  One my new favourites is a lovely little shop called Alexandra Vintage in Reading.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
On my “need” list I currently have nude peep toes (for summer weddings), I’m travelling to Venice in June so also want to find some nice comfy flat sandals that are still a little glam, and I have a lovely polka dot dress that I’m looking to find a matching skinny red leather belt to go with. I also really want a new leather tan coloured clutch bag.094 (640x480)
Boots or Shoes? 
ooooh Im going to say boots, no shoes! yes, def shoes. I love boots, they keep you warm and can really jazz up any outfit. I have a lovely pair of suede shoe boots too.. but overall it has to be shoes. I love heels too much! They make feel a little more special and fancy!
whitetowerprofessionalLinks you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
My links are:

Thank you Natalie, I really enjoyed our chat and your cakes!!! 

Linda x

Photos published with kind permission of Natalie Dickinson.

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