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Regional Cakeathon Revisited: Northumberland Threshing Day Barley Bread

Story location: Home / food_and_drink / a_to_z /

The barley bread was one of the recipes I wanted to try during the main run of the A-Z of baking but I had difficulty tracking down the barley flour. I eventually managed to find some in a vegan/health food shop in Digbeth in Birmingham but by then I had already made the Nottingham Apple Pudding.

The only versions of this recipe on-line seem to be more like a savoury scone than a bread, made with buttermilk and baking powder. I thought I would try to make a more traditional bread, using yeast. Since baking powder was only invented in the mid 19th century, if the barley is a genuine traditional food, then early versions would have used yeast.

Northumberland Threshing Day Barley Bread

I used a mixture of barley flour and bread flour, added yeast and salt and then enough milk to make a soft dough. It rose quite slowly so I left it overnight. I only made a bread roll sized loaf as an experiment but it came out ok. I will have another go sometime in the future and try a few other variations on the recipe.

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /

I've been hearing a lot about the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte recently. It's been hard to walk down the street without seeing a poster or advertising board announcing their availability. I thought I should try one to find out what all the fuss was about.

I popped into a Starbucks on the way to work and ordered a 'tall' one, using their hilarious nomenclature of calling the smallest size tall. First impressions were promising. There was a very pleasant cinnamon aroma coming up from the cup.

Then I tasted it.

First impressions can be very deceptive.


Ewww, that's very sweet

The cinnamon smell was purely there to deceive the senses. It was sprinkled on the foam. There was no warming cinnamon flavour in the coffee. There was no warming coffee flavour in the coffee. There was a horrible sweet flavour masking everything else.

I couldn't finish it and half of it got poured down a grid.

Owls Everywhere

Story location: Home / Blog / birmingham /

A few months ago, a load of decorated owls popped up in and around Birmingham. I managed to find and photograph a few of them on my way to work and during my lunch break.


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Birmingham Burritos

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /

It's been a while since I've written about eating out so I thought I'd mention a few places I've been to in Birmingham recently. The first one is Aunt Sally's Caribbean restaurant. I've been there a couple of times at lunchtime. The first time I had the jerk chicken (as you do). The second I tried the mutton curry. On both occasions I chose the larger size but I really struggled to finish the mutton. The prices may have gone up a bit recently but the food is good and the serving sizes are generous.


The second place worthy of a mention is Habaneros, the burrito van near the Cathedral. I decided to try the pulled pork burrito with all the trimmings (apart from guacamole since I'm not a big fan of avocado, but I might try that next time). They cram a lot of food inside a 12 inch burrito and it's another lunchtime venue worth visiting.

Pinhole Photography Day

Story location: Home / photography / pinhole /

It's been quite a long time since I posted any non-food photos (back in September when I dabbled with some HDR images), and I haven't done any pinhole photography since 2008.

Yesterday was Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day so I decided to have another go, this time in colour and digital (most of my previous pinhole work was medium format on black and white film). I made a pinhole 'lens' by drilling a hole in a body cap and taping some foil over the hole. I made a hole in the foil using the thinnest needle I could find.

I did a few test photos indoors before going out for a walk along the canal. Since I didn't take my tripod with me, I set the camera to maximum sensitivity to keep the exposures short. Most of the outdoors shots were between 0.5-2s so I still had to brace the camera against something solid but they came out ok.


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Deep Fried Sushi

Story location: Home / Blog / birmingham /

We were back in Birmingham today so we paid a visit to Woktastic, which we go to occasionally when we're in the city centre. We always have the all you can eat sushi and every now and then they introduce different types of sushi.

The change this time was the introduction of deep fried sushi. I don't know how long they have been serving this since it's been a while since we were last there. Part of me thinks that deep fried sushi is such a bad idea and goes against the simple and healthy image of sushi. Another part of me thinks that if a food is worth eating, it is worth deep frying.

Deep fried sushi

Black Country Living Museum

Story location: Home / Blog / birmingham /

We continued yesterday's theme of visiting somewhere new, this time we drove west to the Black Country Living Museum. This is similar to Blists Hill at Ironbridge with a similar range of displays and shops.


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Good Food Show

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /

We went to the Good Food Show at the NEC today. The ticket included entry to the Saturday Kitchen, a live version of the BBC TV show hosted by James Martin. It featured a lot of the usual items from TV, including the Omelette Challenge (with guest chef Lawrence Keogh) and wine tips from Olly Smith. The celebrity guest today was 80s singer Paul Young (who has started to look a lot like Gary Glitter as he's got older). The chefs cooked a spiced breaded chicken for him (a bit like home-made KFC).

Back to the show, we noticed garlic and chillies seemed to feature prominently. There were a few stalls selling garlic bulbs, including some Elephant Garlic where the individual cloves were bigger then normal garlic bulbs. We tried quite a lot of chilli based foods, including chilli sauces, cheeses, chilli vodkas and liqueurs.

Each year I normally manage to eat something new and different. This year it was a scorpion. One of the vodka stalls had a jar filled with scorpions and the bloke there dared me to try one. It tasted of vodka but it wasn't a very pleasant experience. I had to chew it a lot before I could summon the courage to swallow. The texture wasn't very nice and I'm sure I could feel all the legs as I chewed.

I also 'ate' some gold flakes, but that was much more pleasant. The first bit of gold was from an sample of Goldschlager. I'd never tried it before - I first heard of it several years ago in Wetherspoons. Someone in the queue ahead of me tried to order it and the bartender mis-heard and thought they wanted a Grolsch Lager. The second bit of gold was a sample of a sparkling wine which contained gold flakes.

Good Food Show

Story location: Home / Blog / birmingham /

Every time we go to the Good Food Show, we try the St Germain elderflower liqueur. We like it but for some reason we never actually buy any. This year we finally decided to buy a bottle. They gave us a book of cocktail recipes so at least we will know what to do with it.

Birmingham Back to Backs

Story location: Home / Blog / birmingham /

I was going to say that the Birmingham Back to Back houses were more interesting that I expected, but I didn't really know what to expect. The guided tour takes about an hour and you go through 4 different houses and one shop, decorated from different periods from the early 19th century through to the 1970s.

Walking from New Street station, we got to the houses much quicker than I was expecting. I recognised the stretch of Hurst Street but I didn't remember seeing the houses there before. I must have walked past them a dozen times without noticing them.

They were built when the surrounding area was still fields. None of the houses had running water - all the water had to come from the nearby 'Lady Well'. It isn't easy to imagine what the city was like back then but the short tour gave some interesting insights into the growth of the city.

Our only regret was that we missed out on visiting the sweet shop on the corner. It hadn't opened when we arrived, and was closed for lunch when we left.

Woktastic Birmingham

Story location: Home / Blog / birmingham /

The 'Woktastic Noodle and Sushi Bar' in Birmingham does an all you can eat sushi bar at certain times of the day, including all day at weekends. We've had sushi a few times before but I'd never been to a place where you pick it from the conveyor belt before. It was also the first time I had eaten so much raw fish.

(To build up an appetite first we went round the Sea Life centre to look at the fish. There was also a 3D 'Spongebob' film being shown, which was a bit of fun.)

The range of sushi is impressive - a wide variety of the different rolls and nigri. Noodles and vegetables were also available. The spices soy beans were very soft and tender. The pods were a bit tough but I soon realised you weren't supposed to eat them.

For £12.99 it is definitely good value. Since most of the bowls contain 2 of each type of sushi, we usually shared so that we could try a bit of everything. We managed to try most types before we got to full and had to stop. Next time we're in Birmingham we might return and see if we can try what we missed this time around.

The Birmingham Witch Doctor

Story location: Home / Blog / coventry /

This morning I found a small card which had been left under the windscreen wiper of our car. It was advertising the services of someone in Birmingham who could remove evil spell and bad luck. It seemed to be for some kind of local witch doctor, claiming to help with home and business issues and advertising powerful spell to reunite with a loved one.

He also claimed to be able to cure people who use alcohol or tobacco. Right now, I'm writing this while drinking a glass of sparkling wine. I don't feel like I'm using alcohol or that I need curing of it. I don't think I'll be phoning to make an appointment.

Good Food Show

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /

The summer Good Food Show included entry into the Gardeners World show but we were more interested in the food so we only had a brief look round the garden side. We talked to people at a few of the stands as we wandered through but most of our time was spent at the far end where the Food Show was being held.

We were impressed by the amount of free food available. We ate numerous samples of cereal, yoghurt and ice cream. We also tried a lot of different wine and spirit samples, buying bottles of any which impressed us.

Before we left, we went outside to look around the rest of the garden show. The BBC were giving away free packets of vegetable seeds. Most of the seeds should have been planted earlier in the year but there was still time to plant carrot and beetroot. We don't actually like beetroot and don't eat many carrots but I sowed some of each in the garden to see if they grow.

Good Food Show

Story location: Home / Blog / food_and_drink /

We were on the train to Birmingham International and we got talking to an elderly couple. They claimed that last year you had to pay for a lot of the food and drink samples. Mercifully that wasn't the case today.

Most of the food and drink producers were giving away small free samples. If we bought some of everything we liked, it would cost a fortune and we wouldn't be able to carry it home. We had to be fairly selective but still came away with a heavy load of wine, cider and spirits.

On the food side, the most impressive free sample was something called Chipstix. These were spiral cut potatoes which were deep fried then sprinkled with seasoning. The stall was promoting the franchise rather than trying to sell the food directly to the public. It made good novelty food and would be a fun alternative to chips, possibly as a side-dish in a pub or cafe.

Kingswinford Hamster Show

Story location: Home / Blog / Hamsters /

It was foggy this morning as we drove to the hamster show. Along the M6, we knew Birmingham was out there but couldn't see any sign of it.

The Christmas hamster shows are always a bit special compared to the normal meetings. The hamster club puts on a buffet which always goes down well. There is usually a good turn-out which means more competition which usually means our hamsters don't do as well as normal. We only won the one trophy, for our Winter White hamsters.