Category Archives: Recipes

Strawberry & Thyme Galette with Honey Ricotta (with bonus competition!)

Strawberry Galette

When I was a kid, I managed to convince myself that I was allergic to strawberries. I’m not entirely why I came to this conclusion – I think it was probably due to me becoming violently ill after greedily eating two punnets of the things at once. Either way, I spent a large portion of my teenage years refusing to touch the things for fear of a repeat performance, adding it to the litany of  food items (including bananas and grated cheese) that I developed bizarre phobias of.

Then I entered adulthood and decided to pull myself together. I’m not entirely sure when I decided I liked strawberries again. I just know that I decided to live dangerously and put a dollop of strawberry jam on my toast one morning and became hooked all over again. I love them in jams, I love them in cakes, and I simply adore them smothered in thick clouds of clotted cream. I love how the sweetness of strawberries plays off against so many other different flavours – the tang of vinegar, the sizzle and pop of pepper, and – as I’ve recently discovered – the punchiness of thyme.

This Strawberry & Thyme Galette is the perfect thing to bake if (like me) you still have a minor phobia of making pies containing soft fruits for fear that they will explode all over your oven, leaving you scrubbing bits of burnt on goo off it for the next six months. The dough comes together in minutes, it’s an absolute cinch to roll out and – joy of joys! – there’s no fiddling about with pie tins. Instead, you merely fold a deliciously scented crust over strawberries which have been macerated in lemon juice and a whole lot of zest. I think that the thyme adds a divine slightly savoury note, but if it’s not your bag, just leave it out. It’s the kind of bake which can stand up to a whole lot of fiddling (I’m already contemplating making a version where the strawberries are macerated in ginger cordial.)

The thing which brings it all together though is the honey ricotta. I’ve become slightly addicted to making my own ricotta at the moment (it’s all part of my five year plan to become the kind of woman who can bench press her own body weight and make her own cheese) and making it will make you feel like a super cool urban milkmaid. Something which I personally feel we need more of.

To celebrate the fact that I managed to make a pie and homemade cheese with no major incident, the nice folks at OXO kitchenwear have provided me with a free strawberry kit to give away to one lucky winner. It contains a strawberry huller, a set of berry bowls for all your Summer baking needs, and two punnets of strawberries from Berry World. They’ll also stick you in a prize draw to win a year’s supply of strawberries. Pretty sweet, huh? To enter, just leave a comment below saying what you’d bake with a punnet of strawberries. You’ve got until 15th July to enter, so good luck!

Strawberry Galette with Thyme Crust (Slice and jar)



Inspired by Food 52

You will need:

For the thyme pastry

  • 300g plain flour (plus extra for rolling)
  • 150g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 tbsp dried thyme (add 1/2 tsp more if you are using fresh)
  • 2 tbsps demerara sugar, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 50ml ice-cold water
  • 1 egg, beaten, for glazing the crust

For the strawberry filling

  • 1 punnet of strawberries
  • 35g demerara sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 tbsp cornflour

For the honey ricotta

  • 2 pints full fat milk
  • 2 tbsps lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp good quality honey
  • You will also need a jam thermometer and some cheesecloth for straining (although you could probably use a clean tea towel for this at a pinch)

Make It!

  1. Preheat oven to 200° C/Gas Mark 6
  2. Mix together the dry ingredients. Rub the cubed butter in with your fingers until fully combined, and the butter has broken down into pea-sized pieces. (alternatively, if you have a food processor, just blitz the ingredients in this.) SLOWLY add the ice water until the dough JUST begins to come together. Turn the crust mixture out onto some clingfilm, wrap it up and flatten it into a disk. Refrigerate for 10 minutes while you prepare the strawberries.
  3. Hull and slice the strawberries, before combining them with the sugar, flour and cornflour. Add the juice and zest of the lemon and mix well (you’ll see the strawberries beginning to break down slightly, but they will be OK so long as you use them right away.)
  4. Lay a piece of baking paper which is just large enough to cover a baking sheet onto a flat surface. Remove the chilled dough from your fridge and unwrap it on this. Dust with flour, and roll it out until it is the thickness of your index finger. Spoon the strawberry filling into the centre of the crust, and spread it out, taking care to leave a 2-inch border.
  5. Carefully fold the crust border over the filling (don’t worry about making it look pretty, you want this to look a bit haphazard!) Brush the crust with beaten egg, and sprinkle well with the leftover demerara sugar.
  6. CAREFULLY slide the galette, still on the baking paper, onto your baking sheet. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and leave to cool for ten minutes.
  7. While the galette is baking, make your ricotta following this method from The Kitchn. You only need to drain the ricotta for ten minutes, as you want it to be quite soft and fluffy. Once drained, add the honey and leave to one side until the galette is baked.
  8. Once the galette is cool, serve immediately with a large blob of the honey ricotta. Both the ricotta and the galette should keep for around five days.





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Chicken and Bacon Risotto

Griping about the weather is one of those peculiarly British tropes I’ve never quite got the hang of.  Blame my American blood. One moment, people are complaining that it’s blowing a gale outside and they’re having to put the central heating on, and the next they’re getting annoyed about the fact that it’s 30 degrees outside which means they have to bare their pasty white legs to the world. However, let me add my voice to the legions of moaners by saying that our current spell of hot/damp/windy weather is pissing me off something rotten. Namely because I have no idea how to dress. Do I wear jeans and sandals to the office and run the risk of contracting trench foot? Or do I wear a skirt which will inevitably catch in a gust of wind and reveal my knickers to everyone on the number 86 bus? It’s a sartorial minefield and then some.

It’s also pretty annoying when it comes to deciding what I’m going to make for dinner. As a rule, I dislike making stodgy dishes in Summer, feeling that instead I should be embracing all the recipes I see in my blog reader for quinoa salads and courgette quiches. But the other night it was cold, wet and all I wanted to do was drink wine and make a rather-unseasonable risotto. So, I did.

There’s something immensely soothing about the act of making risotto. All of that stirring and chopping and occasionally taking huge slugs of wine out of the bottle when no one’s looking. If, like me, you are also incurably lazy, you can also pretend that it’s a form of exercise and you’re toning your arm muscles by rotating a wooden spoon repeatedly around a pan ensuring your rice doesn’t burn. I made mine with chicken and bacon – arguably the Lennon and McCartney of the meat world – first rendering down all the fat from the bacon and cooking each ingredient in all of that delicious porky grease.  The end result was delicious – toothsome rice, soft chicken, a slight zing from the lemon zest and plenty of parmesan grated over the top. It may not be the most summery of dishes, but last time I checked, it’s not the most summery of August’s out there either. Which is why I’ll be making this again. Soon. Probably whilst wearing 100 denier tights.


You will need:

  • 250g arborio rice
  • 4 rashers of good quality bacon, chopped into bitesized pieces
  • A good handful of leftover roast chicken, skinned and chopped
  • 1.3 litres of chicken stock (fresh if possible)
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 50g parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and lemon zest

Make It!

  1. Start by frying the bacon in a tablespoon of olive oil. Once it’s starting to turn brown at the edges, add the chopped shallots and garlic until they turn soft.
  2. Add the rice, and stir it thoroughly until it’s coated in the bacon grease. Add the wine and stir it through until it’s all been soaked up by the rice. Feel free to drink some of the wine whilst you’re doing this.
  3. Then, start to add your stock to the rice. Add a ladleful and when it’s been soaked up, add another ladleful. Repeat until the rice had turned creamy and is firm to the bite.
  4. When you add the final ladle of stock, add the chopped chicken to your saucepan and and stir through. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest, chopped parsley and Parmesan, leave to rest for a few mins, then stir through and serve. I ate this whilst watching Dominic West and Ben Whishaw looking all hot and pouty in The Hour, but quite frankly, I imagine that this would work just as well being eaten off your lap whilst watching Eastenders.
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Dense Chocolate-Rum Cake

I’m really up against it at the moment. My life is full of work, deadlines, stress – that toxic brew which leads to me waking up each morning feeling as though my jaw has been clamped in a vice because I’ve been clenching it so hard in my sleep. And that’s without the psychic swipes I keep taking at myself for not blogging as often as I should. In such circumstances, there’s only one thing for it. I need to bake.

When some people get stressed, they go and hit a punching bag.  For others, the only way to work off their malaise is to go for a five mile run, or drink a tumbler full of whiskey and get into a fight. My personal release valve is none of these things. Indeed, I only feel that awful yoke of anxiety lift from my shoulders when I’m in the kitchen creaming eggs and sugar together, or thumping the living daylights out of a huge lump of dough whilst singing along to the radio. I come alive when I bake. Perhaps there’s something wrong with me.

So, last Sunday, I shoved my to-do list and my worldly cares to one side, broke out the chocolate, and decided to make a cake. A ‘Dense Chocolate-Rum Cake’ to be exact. It was supposed to be a straight up recreation of Nigella Lawson’s famous Dense Chocolate Loaf, but circumstances contrived to work against me. So, I decided to (for want a better term) ‘freestyle’ a bit. I’ve replaced the vanilla essence she uses in her recipe with dark rum (because hey, show me a person that doesn’t like rum) and I used Green and Black’s Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans because it was just what I had in my fridge at the time.

The end result was magnificent – rich and delicious, with a dense consistency and an almost treacle flavour. The slight hint of coffee and rum complemented the dark chocolate perfectly, and it almost reminded me of a very grown up version of Parkin. Both myself and Mr. Cay ate huge slices of this with a vanilla spiked cream and a nice mug of builder’s tea, and suddenly all was right with the world.

This cake won’t write my work reports for me, blog for me, or even be accepted by my debtors in lieu of payment. But, when I’m eating it, it does make the world feel that little bit brighter. Even if it is only for five minutes.

DENSE CHOCOLATE-RUM CAKE (Makes 6-8 medium sized portions)

Adapted from a recipe by Nigella Lawson

You will need:

  • 225 g salt soft unsalted butter
  • 375 g dark muscovado sugar
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 large glug of dark rum
  • 100 g best dark chocolate, melted (I used Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate Espresso Bar for a nice coffee kick)
  • 200 g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

Make It!

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/gas5. Grease and line a 23x13x7cm cm (9x5x3in) loaf tin (or, alternatively, you can use a silicon baking dish). Cream the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and rum, beating in well.
  2. Next fold in the melted and cooled chocolate, taking care to blend well but do not overbeat.
  3. You want the ingredients combined: you don’t want a light airy mass. Gently add the flour, to which you’ve added the bicarb, alternately spoon by spoon, with 250 ml of boiling water until you have a smooth and fairly liquid batter.
  4. Pour into the lined loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven down to 170C/gas mark 3 and cook for another 15 minutes. The cake will still be a bit squidgy inside, so an inserted cake tester or skewer won’t come out completely clean.
  5. Place the loaf tin on a rack and leave to get completely cold before turning it out. It improves if left for a day or so before eating. This cake will probably sink in the middle because of its denseness.
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Middle Eastern Chicken with Saffron marinating

Ok.  Don’t speak.  I already know what you’re going to say. “I thought you said you were going to be writing a blog post every day in November.” And, well, you wouldn’t be wrong there. But life has a funny habit of getting in the way of the best made plans. Whilst I leapt into Friday, Saturday and Sunday with the best of intentions, a two hour long teleconference, a 40 minute wait for a bus in the pouring rain, a hole in my favourite pair of pumps and  three bottles of wine (a mediocre Shiraz, a lip smacking Pinot Noir and a zingy Savignon Blanc) put pay to those pretty swiftly. So yes. Sorry about that readers. I would promise not to do it again, but it’s my birthday on Sunday which means that anything could happen. And last time I checked, Mancunian gutters don’t have very good wi-fi.

Whilst I may not have been blogging, I have been cooking.  There’s a jar of Saffron currently nestled away in my spices cupboard, and I’ve been curious to find out what I can do with it besides from popping it into a Tagine or using it to flavour Paella.  Due to its expense, I’ve never really experimented with Saffron much – mainly because I’m terrified that I’ll sneeze and send a fivers worth of spices down the plughole. However, I love the rich yellowly-orange colour it gives to dishes, and its interesting – almost metallic – taste.  I took delivery of a massive aluminium stewing pot the other day and there are some chicken thighs in the fridge needing to used up.  Its time to experiment.

A quick rummage around my spice cupboard shows that I’ve got cinnamon, cardamom pods, ginger,  lemon juice and a metric tonne of minced garlic. I make a marinade out of these, coat my chicken in it, and leave all the flavours to sit and soak in for an hour. Then I brown my chicken, throw in some diced onion, a tin of chopped tomatoes and a pint of chicken stock. Then I throw in my secret ingredient – the saffron and let it all bubble on the stove whilst I squeal like a girl over who has been evicted from X Factor this week. After 45 minutes, I add a large squeeze of honey to the mixture,  before  serving it up with a large pile of fluffy steamed rice which has been cooked with some crushed cardamom.

It may be cold outside, but here in a little corner of Bootle, a girl is hunched up by four bars of a gas fire, sniffing her dinner and pretending she’s in Morocco rather than Merseyside.  If you fancy doing the same (and getting some funny looks from those around you), then why not try this out for yourself?

Oh, and before I continue, an apology. One day I will take better photographs than those used here to illustrate my dinner. If anyone fancies offering me a proper camera (I’m currently using the one on my Blackberry. Yes, yes I know – I deserve to have all of my  food blogger rights taken away from me) and some lessons in how to make my dinner look delicious rather than devastating, then I wouldn’t say No.

Middle Eastern Chicken

MIDDLE EASTERN CHICKEN (Serves two hungry people)

You Will Need:

  • 2 tablespoons of minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 chicken thighs
  • 4 cardamom pods (crushed)
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 pint of chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon of saffron fronds
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • Parsley (to garnish)

Make It!

  1. Mix the garlic, crushed cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and lemon juice together well. Use this mixture to coat your chicken thighs well. Cover, and leave to marinate for at least 1 hour.
  2. Heat a non-stick pan until hot and add the chicken thighs. Cook on both sides for 4-5 minutes until they begin to turn brown.
  3. Add the chopped onion, tomatoes and stock and simmer for around 30 minutes until the chicken is tender and the sauce has reduced. Place your saffron in a small bowl full of hot water and leave it to sit for ten minutes. Add the saffron and its liquid to the pot.
  4. Give your chicken a good stir and add the honey. If your sauce is too thick, then add some more stock until it reaches a nice consistency. Serve with parsley, couscous or rice.
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I’ve never really been able to get the point of Bonfire Night. I don’t know – call me a killjoy, but if I wanted to see a bunch of kids thrown a load of incendiaries at each other I’d take a nice relaxing holiday in downtown Kabul. And then there’s the weather. It’s truly horrible outside at the moment – the icy November wind cuts through you like a knife through butter, and the rain keeps coming down like sheets of wet bullets. Foolishly, I decided to wear ballet flats when embarking on my adventures today, so with every step I took, the damp seeped through the thin leopardprint fabric and turned all my sinews to ice.

So, I’ve decided to forgo the pleasures of standing in a damp field watching men in balaclavas set off damp Catherine Wheels to stay at home and watch them through a pane of glass instead. Besides, home has many things the outside world doesn’t. It has wine, episodes of The Restaurant and America’s Next Top Model, a gas fire, Miles Davis records and – possibly the best thing of all – all of the ingredients I require to make myself a stonking Lamb Curry.

I love curry. All kinds of curry – seriously, I’m not fussy. I’m as happy tucking into a large portion of Jamaican Curried Goat with Roti breads as I am plunging into a coconut-and-lemongrass-scented bowl of Thai Green Curry with sticky Jasmine rice.  And I love making it in my little kitchen at home. There’s something incredibly soothing about the sizzle and pop of mustard seeds frying in a pan, the measuring out tablespoons of tumeric and smashing cardomom pods with the flat side of  my knife, the smells of cinnamon, garlic and coriander wafting through the house, the small pools of oil which float to the surface, showing it’s cooking properly. I usually make this around once a week, and serve it with piles of steamed basmati rice – seasoned with saffron fronds if I’m feeling flush.

This recipe is inspired by a South African curry recipe I found in an old copy of the Guardian in the waiting room of a Sexual Health clinic. Proof, if ever you needed it, that I am always thinking of food, even when discussing birth control methods.  It’s the perfect thing to tuck into when it’s cold outside, and the thought of stepping outdoors to watch  people set fire to things causes you to hunker down in your favourite piece of knitware and wrap your arms around the nearest radiator. Indeed, if you’re in an exotic frame of mind, you could even choose to turn your gas fire up to full and pretend you’re basking in the warmth of a South African afternoon. Not that I’d ever do such a thing of course.

LAMB CURRY (Serves Four)

  • 3 tablespoons sunflower oil
  • 3 cardamom pods
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 onions sliced thin
  • 2 teaspoons garlic crushed
  • 1 tub of passata
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 large portion of lamb mince
  • 2 tablespoons of ginger powder
  • 3 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1- 2 teaspoons chilli powder
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1 tablespoon of mustard seeds
  • 1½ cups (about 375ml) lamb stock

Make It!

  1. Heat the oil, and fry the mustard seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves in the oil until they release their aroma.
  2. Fry your lamb mince until brown
  3. Add the butter and the onions and fry until translucent then add the garlic and tomato puree and stir through.
  4. Add your passata and cook over a low heat to form a thick sauce. When you see the oil coming to the top of the sauce add the  ginger, coriander, cumin, chilli and turmeric.
  5. Braise the curry with 1½ cups of lamb stock. Cover your pan and cook for around 45 minutes. Then take the lid off, and simmer for another 30 minutes until a rich, thick sauce has formed.
  6. Serve with steamed basmati rice, flavoured with either saffron or cardamon pods, and roti breads.
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Bread. Lovely Lovely Bread.

SLAM! Take that Mr. Bank Manager! SLAP! And you, dream employer who hasn’t bothered to inform me yet as to  whether you’re going to offer me that job or not , despite the fact my interview with you was a whole month ago! WALLOP! And you, everyone else who has ever dared to slight me!

When times are hard, I bake. And today, times are hard.  I’ve spent most of the day feeling as though I’ve been wandering around with a large grey stormcloud hanging over my head – something which wasn’t helped by the fact I had a big important business meeting in Warrington this morning which I was an hour late for because I turned up at the wrong building. My new heels pinched my feet meaning that every step I took caused blisters to sizzle and pop on my poor battered toes.  On the train home, I was lucky enough to sit next to a drunk guy who kept shouting at his girlfriend she needed to read more books and tried to grab the libary novel I was reading out of my hands so it could give it to her as a gift.  When I finally arrived back in Bootle, I stepped off my train and head-first into a hailstorm before trudging home to discover that we’d run out of milk. Meaning no reviving cup of Builders Tea for me. Bah.

In such circumstances, there’s only one thing for it. It’s time to break out the flour, add tepid water to dried yeast and get kneading.  During my adventures in Warrington earlier on today, I’d noticed some wild rosemary bushes growing by the side of the road. I took some clippings from them with a pair of nail scissors when no one was looking, so I’ll add these to my dough with a teaspoon of olive oil.  Then I scatter flour across my worktop and get kneading – channelling all of  the memories of all of the petty annoyances and anxieties of my day into the heel of my hand as it stretches and knuckles the dough until all comes together and becomes soft and elastic. I find a leftover slice of lemon in one of the crisper drawers of my fridge, and sip ASDA Earl Grey from my favourite mug whilst my bread rises in front of two bars of a gas fire, and I giggle at last night’s episode of 30 Rock. After 45 minutes or so, I knock it back with the force of a Mexican Wrestler, before leaving it to rise in the corner like a naughty child.  After one more proving, it’s ready to go, so I coverwith a thin sheen of olive oil to give it a tasty crust, before popping it in the oven 30 minutes where it becomes crisp, warm and doughy, and ten times better than anything Mr. Warburtons provides in a bright orange wrapper.

Some people say that making your own bread is hard work – too much labour for too little gain. But on nights like this, it’s just what I need to put the smile back on my face.

Later on, I’ll serve it warm with homemade hoummus and carrot soup, whilst giggling with Mr. Cay about cartoons we remember from our childhood.  And I’ll feel warm and content, for a crappy Tuesday is  drawing to a close and I got through it in one piece without losing life or limb. And I got homemade bread out of it as well.  Which is an achievement in itself, wouldn’t you say?

RECIPE: ROSEMARY BREAD (makes one large loaf)

You will need:

  • 475g  strong white bread flour
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 teaspoons fast action dried yeast
  • 275ml warm water
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • Sprig of fresh rosemary

Make It:

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the butter with the flour, working it through with your fingertips until it looks like you’ve got a bowl of fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Throw in the rest of the  ingredients and slowly add the water while mixing with a wooden spoon. You want the ingredients to combine into a stiff dough – too much water and you’ll end up with a sloppy mess.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead well for five or so minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic. Stick it back in the bowl, cover it lightly with clingfilm and leave it somewhere warm for 45 minutes.
  4. Take the clingfilm off, punch the air out of the dough, tip it out and knead it again, before returning it to the bowl. Leave for another 45 minutes, and then repeat this step all over again.
  5. After the 45 minutes are done, knock the dough back and knead it a third time before placing it in a greased 2lb loaf tin. Clingfilm it back up and leave it for half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 200C (Gas Mark 7).
  6. Dust the dough with flour and put it the oven for 30 minutes. Remove from the tin and leave to cool. Serve with butter, hoummus, peanut butter, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, soup or whatever suits you best.
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I’ve always been a sucker for a good cafe.  Somewhere I can set up shop for an afternoo with my notebook and a never ending supply of coffee whilst I check out cute boys and watch the world go by. Over the years, there’s been many a coffee bar which has held the key to my heart. When I lived in London, I’d regularly haunt the New Piccadilly Café, where I’d chainsmoke and pretend that I was the character in a kitchen sink drama like A Taste of Honey. In my wild formative years when I used to hang around Glasgow, a night out wasn’t complete without a 4am visit to Café Insomnia in the West End for  a sobering Mint Aero Cappucino. But above everywhere else, possibly my favourite café of all time is Manchester’s Café Pop.

I was first taken to Café Pop on a date when I was fourteen years old, and seeing an older bloke who should really have known better. He smoked, and like Suede, and studied Philosophy and to my sheltered surburban eyes seemed like the coolest, most glamorous man in the world. We were wandering around the Northern Quarter one day when he took me to this little place situated at the end of Oldham Street. When I walked through the door that first day, my eyes nearly popped out of my skull.  It was like stepping back in time to the 1960s – complete with old fashioned formica tables, a wall papered in old Top of the Pops compilation sleeves, timelessly stylish clear plastic cappuccino cups and waitresses who looked like Twiggy.  Add to this the fact that was a vintage boutique and hairdressers situated in the basement and  it’s not really surprising that I fell head over heels in love with the place on the spot.  At that moment, I decided upon two things. One, that I was going to become a mod, and two Café Pop was going to become my home from home.

And for many years, it was as well. In fact, I developed a bit of a routine. Every Saturday,  after I’d tidied the bedroom I shared with my younger sister, I’d collect my £5 from my Dad,  put on my best fake fur coat  and jump on the number 50 bus heading into Manchester City Centre to meet my best friends Lis, Kate and Becca – always making sure to apply lots of Rimmel Black Cherry lipstick on the way there (I idolised Marie Du Santiago from Kenickie at the time, and after reading an interview with her in Just 17 where she said that it was her preferred shade of lippy, it immediately became mine as well). Then we’d head to Oldham Street, where we’d buy the latest singles of the day from Vinyl Exchange or Piccadilly Records before setting up shop in Café Pop to compare our purchases, flirt with cute older men and pretend that we were much older and sophisticated than we really were.  We’d stay there for hours as well – I lost count of the amount of times we were chucked out by Mike, the Geordie owner of the place because we’d been there for four hours and only bought one cheap filter coffee between us.

As I grew older, sat my GCSEs and entered the world of work, I begged them to take me on as a waitress so I could avoid the Summer job in a printers my Dad had arranged for me, but to no avail.  Fortunately, the office was only based in Strangeways – a fifteen minute walk away from the Northern Quarter (well, if you nipped through the now bricked-over Cannon Street that is), so every lunch time I’d hurredly rush there to down a bowl of soup and a can of coke, praying all the while that no one would notice the stench of industrial ink which had permeated all of my clothes. When I entered sixth form, my college demanded that we either do work to help the community or sport on a Wednesday afternoon, so I got a volunteer job at Oxfam Originals on Oldham Street which allowed me to think I was saving the earth with an added frisson of cool. I dyed my hair black, acquired a Vidal Sassoon bob from Barbarella, the hairdressers located in the basement and walked and talked like I’d just stepped out of 1968 – something which amused my teachers no end.  The Café Pop regulars who’d gotten to know me over the years would pop into the shop and ply me with free sandwiches so I’d provide them with discounts on clobber they had their eye on. Looking back at it now, it was probably one of the best times of my life.

But sooner or later it all had to end, and it did in 2001 when I got my A Level results and left Manchester for the bright lights of London.  When I came home for Christmas, Café Pop had moved to the basement of the building they were situated in, and the boutique had moved upstairs. The wall of record sleeves had been taken down, and all of the quirky little nick-nacks situated on the shelves in each corner of the room had been lovingly packaged away. In its place was something which looked like the place I’d always known and loved, but somehow wasn’t the same.  It felt the end of an era somehow.

I’ve been back a few times since then, and whilst it’s never been especially bad, it’s not a patch on the place I knew and loved when I was a precocious whippersnapper.  Apparently it’s also changed hands over the last few years as well, so perhaps it’s to be expected that its new owners would like to put their own stamp on the place.  But still. Whenever I walk down Oldham Street, it’s difficult not to feel just a small pang of nostalgia for the Saturday afternoons of my youth, and the girl I was then – one who always wanted to be serious and glamorous, who always wore too much make-up, and who I know I’ll never be again.

RECIPE: CARROT & CORIANDER SOUP (always one of my favourite things to order because it was cheap, filling and tasted really bloody good)

You will need:

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 450g/1lb carrots, sliced
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1.2 litresl/2 pints vegetable stock
  • large bunch fresh coriander, roughly chopped
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make It:

1. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onions and the carrots. Cook for 3-4 minutes until they start to soften.
2. Stir in the ground coriander and season well. Cook for 1 minute.
3. Add the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Simmer until the vegetables are tender.
4. Whizz with a hand blender or in a blender until smooth.  Make sure you taste it at this point to check if it needs more seasoning. If you feel like being adventurous, add a little fresh orange juice to bring out the taste of the carrots.  Stir in the fresh coriander and serve with fresh homemade bread.

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