Food on Friday: A Casa Di Alessia, Otley

A Casa Di Alessia, Italian Cafe, Otley

Having managed to clock up some overtime this week, Adam decided to take an extra long lunch break today, and treated me to lunch out. We’ve been wanting to try the little Italian cafe nearby for ages….several people have recommended it to us and we’d heard they serve great authentic pizza as well as good coffee.

It’s a teeny place, but well located just a minute’s walk from the market square in Otley, on New Market. We managed to snag a little table (there are only two, plus a bar with high stools, but we noticed nobody had to wait long as the service is pretty speedy) and opted to try out the margherita and artichoke pizza slices, as well as the veggie lasagne and long coffees. I believe the owners (who served us!) are a couple….she is clearly Italian and in charge of the cooking….he is clearly local and in charge of the lovely welcome we got!

There was a great choice, which I understand changes daily….several vegetarian and meat pizzas, meat pasta, calzones, soup of the day, salads and all sorts. Everything we saw looked delicious and fresh.

We didn’t wait long at all for our coffees, and our food arrived soon after too. I have to admit, we’ve been struggling for a decent coffee since we moved, and so these were easily the best we’ve had in Otley….rich and chocolatey, with an excellent crema. The food portions were much larger than we’d expected (we didn’t seem to mind though) and both pizzas were REALLY good. I love ‘proper’ thin dough bases, and these were clearly made fresh with really good mozzarella loaded on top. The pasta was SO yummy….it was seriously creamy and cheesey, and filled with spinach and mushrooms. Even Adam enjoyed his half and he doesn’t usually like mushrooms AT ALL!

The whole visit fitted neatly into our lunch hour, including walking there and back….perhaps on a quiet day we’ll hang around for an extra coffee or two….we will go back for sure. AND the whole meal (way too much for a usual lunch, but it was our main meal of the day!) came to just £11.40. Such good food and such good value.

I’m afraid I didn’t get any photos as I was too eager to yum everything up, but I nabbed the one above from the owner’s entry on Trip Advisor, where you can see many more great reviews so you don’t have to take my word for it!

Ems x

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Foodie Friday: The Groundworks

Hitchin is a small enough town that the opening of a new eatery gets plenty of attention (yes, I really used the word ‘eatery’, and yes I’m turning into Daisy Steiner). More often than not though, it’s not so positive attention…..Adam and I are always moaning as more and more chains open up and there’s uproar about the licensing application for the planned Wetherspoons. We’ve been getting more and more frustrated with the lack of places serving decent veggie options, and us-friendly meat doesn’t seem to interest any of the restaurateurs around here. Not so in the case of Hitchin’s newest establishment, The Groundworks though.

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Image from The Advertiser Group

The childhood dream of two local boys, Tom and Ben, this place is about as independent as you can get and is breathing fresh air into what we had thought was a rather disappointing local offering. Curious about the brown-papered windows concealing the old cafe on the corner of the church yard, I snooped around to find you what was planned and soon came across the new website and Twitter feed. The teaser menu was most interesting and exciting, and when I got in touch to ask about the meat they planned to use I was yet more excited…..finally a local place we can get a good meal out!

Keen to find out when we could taste the artisan coffee and home cooked tasties the website boasted of, we had another snoop as we passed the cafe last weekend and found ourselves being invited in. The boys have totally refitted the place, and the reclaimed wood they’ve lined the walls in and made their tables from make you feel rather like you’re walking into a sauna, just without the awkward avoidance of eye contact and strategically placed towel. It’s beautifully fresh and tidy, yet still cosy and bustling. There’s a lovely big sharing table in the window, a reclaimed slate bar that came from a snooker table, and each table is centred with a pretty kilner jar filled with fresh garden flowers.

http://www.thegroundworks.co.uk/coffee/

Image from The Groundworks

Not having planned the visit we ordered just a couple of flat white coffees, which were delivered to our table by a friendly Groundworker in no time. Tom explained how he was still playing with the coffee grinder, so to let him know if they weren’t right, but our coffees were just perfect. Soon finding another at our table to try, I commented on how pretty the micro foam pattern on the top was, and next thing I know Tom is giving me a lesson at the coffee machine!

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Image from The Groundworks

Told that the full opening was happening on Monday, we planned a lunch there on Thursday to try everything out. I was due to meet up with the very talented Hilary (a friend of Adam’s Mum who also came along) who will be doing my wedding hair and makeup, and so we sat with a very yummy coffee whilst rooting through my Pinterest boards and dress silk samples at the big front table. Adam met us after most of the girl chat was out of the way, and we ordered the pulled pork (one a piece for Adam, his Mum and I) and the Caesar sandwich (for Hils).

Our lunches were brought to us on rustic wooden boards with side salads in the gorgeous white and blue enamel Falconware I love. The salad was fresh, simple and crisps, with no dreaded rocket and just a little light dressing which meant that I actually ate it all (unheard of!). The pulled pork came with a great crunchy slaw in a crisp brioche bun, and was bally delicious. I’ve never been able to eat a pulled pork sandwich out before because it’s so dreadfully tricky to find somewhere that makes them using me-friendly meat, so I enjoyed it even more I think. Hilary’s Caesar sandwich was just as impressive and we all left nicely stuffed.

When we returned to The Groundworks later (Adam’s Mum left the bottle of sloe gin we made for her in the window!!) it was still buzzing, and the warm tungsten lights that fill the place made it positively glow as we walked towards it. I know we’ll be back again and again for the rich, chocolatey coffee, and will more than likely try out their brunch offerings very soon.

I can’t believe we’ve had to wait this long for such a place in our new home town, but I have to say that the arrival of The Groundworks was well worth the wait.

The Groundworks officially opens tomorrow….wishing you all the best guys!

Ems x

Blog Every Day in May: What’s in your fridge?

“Describe and/or photograph what is in your fridge right now. Be honest!”

So my fridge contains all the usual things, organic butter, yoghurt and milk; free range eggs; leeks; charlotte carrots; half a butternut squash and some mixers….but rather than share a complete list of all those types of things, I thought I’d write about some of the more ‘special’ things that are in there.

We regularly buy fancy and posh jars of stuff from food festivals, markets and whatnot, and they inevitably hang around in the fridge for ages before we finally get around to finishing them. At the moment we have lots of really yummy jars in the fridge, including but not limited to….

Humbers Homemade Rosemary Jelly….this is made locally to us and you can buy it from local markets as well as delis. It’s lovely to cook sausages in or to serve with lamb!

We found the wonderful Pink’s range of chilli products at the Maltby Street Market whilst we still lived in London, and we just love their Green Chilli Jelly and Smoked Tomato Tapenade. They make great dips or sauces to cook fish with.

There are currently four full jars of Jules & Sharpie jams and jellies in the fridge….we discovered them at the local chilli festival last year and love the Hot Marmalade, Hot Apple & Sage Jelly, Hot Rhubarb & Ginger Jam, and Hot Lime & Green Pepper Jelly. These are lovely along with a cheese board.

Other regulars are Alfez Harissa (which I chuck into tagines and hot sauces) and Thai Taste Green Curry Paste which is a great base for a yummy curry. We also tend to keep in a few nice jams and marmalades, and currently still have a delicious Fig & Walnut Ball homemade by our friend Hannah.

Ems x

Something from the weekend….. adventures with apples

Boy was it good to have a nice simple weekend in our new home finally! It’s lovely to be busy and have lots of things to do, but I have really enjoyed just mooching about the house this weekend! We are nearly there on getting the place sorted (all boxes are now unpacked!!!) and have even hung most of our pictures.

Still, we did get out of the house a little and I’ve grown even more in love with my new local area…..

On Saturday morning, after a much needed lie-in, we yummed up poached duck eggs on toasted English muffins, then took the short walk into town. I’d completely forgotten that it was Apple Day in the old market square (despite getting all excited when I heard about it!) so it was a lovely surprise to find all sorts of apple-themed stalls there. As well as stalls for local farmers and their various types of lovely produce, there were bric-a-brac stalls and a tombola….plus a game of throw the maggots into the apple! Love it!

We pottered about for a while, buying a few bits and bobs we needed, and having a nosey about. I found a gorgeous Hornsea Fauna deer vase for my collection in the Oxfam shop, which I was very excited about! We had a stroll through the market too and picked up some lovely large pomegranates, as well as a huge chocolate muffin and an enormous cream donut!

We scoffed those back at home with a cup of tea, before making our way to Letchworth to drop off the mountains of cardboard we’d accumulated and to have a look for some bits of furniture we still need. We managed to pick up a lovely little plant stand for the stair well, but are still searching for bed side tables and our dream cocktail bar! Adam also picked up a wonderful vintage tweed jacket though, and we were both delighted to meet several darling greyhounds who were in town with the Greyhound Rescue West of England. We spent a good while meeting the wonderful dogs, who have the softest ears imaginable, and just love to snuggle up to you. We found out that it’s possible to foster them, or even just have them stay for the weekend for some post-op R&R, so we really want to look into that!

After supper, we decided to snuggle up on the sofa to watch a film. I’m incredibly excited about Skyfall (the new James Bond film) coming out this week, so we opted to watch Casino Royale to get into the spirit! Adam’s been practicing his cocktail making skills, so he rather aptly decided to make us Martinis to drink whilst we watched. He’s getting really good and they were delicious (although I still prefer his amazing Whisky Sours!).

It was another lie in on Sunday morning, and a bit more sorting out around the house. I also took some time to ‘feed’ my various Christmas offerings….. extra brandy went into the three cakes I’ve made, as well as the mince meat, and more rum went into my first attempt at Christmas pudding! We couldn’t resist a very quick trip to the market though, where there is a car boot sale each Sunday….well, it’s just so close! We managed to come back without buying anything though, which I think is a first!

We’d been lucky enough to be sent a nice big bag of cooking apples, which were harvested on Friday from Adam’s brother’s garden, and so I baked up some little apple pies for our afternoon tea……for which we were joined by dear friends Holly and Jamie, as well as their three super-cute children. We had great fun showing them the new house (especially as the children were so excited about all the secret doorways and all the different rooms) and indeed entertaining the children (although perhaps it was more a case of them entertaining us!). It seemed very quiet once they’d all gone, and I packed away the treasure box I’d been showing them, and the fake mustaches they dressed up in!

We had left over cottage pie for supper, and spent the evening writing letters and emails, before our sleepy heads got the better of us and we retired to bed with Horlicks and books.

What a lovely, relaxed weekend!

How was yours?

Ems x

The Maltby Street Food Market

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Having promised ourselves a nice relaxing weekend of not doing all that much, when it came to finding entertainment, we decided to keep it local and go for a wander in Bermondsey. We’d been told about the Maltby Street market just a couple of weeks ago, by the lovely Pru from Sparrow Gin at the StockMKT night market nearby….. and we owe her a big thank you for the introduction!

Just a few minutes away from Tower Bridge, but far enough that you feel off the beaten track, a small community of foodies has been growing over the last few years. Under the railway arches in Bermondsey, a bunch of independent food and drink makers and sellers, have moved East from the over-crowded Borough Market, to create a hub of gastronomic treasures each Saturday morning. Buyers and sellers alike enjoy the space, lack of tourists and cameras, and the fact that repeat local business is not only just possible, but inevitable.

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We found the market really easily, having taken the walk across Tower Bridge, down Tower Bridge Road, and hung a left just before the Premier Inn. The stalls collect each Saturday from 9am to 2pm, under the arches and along Maltby Street, against the wonderful backdrop of Lassco’s reclamation yard. It’s brilliantly theatrical, with coffee sellers in between racks of old radiators, and bakers nestled into arches filled with bamboo floor boards, not to mention the darling camels guarding the gate! We took a walk through the showroom first of all, and found stacks of treasures in the shape of roll-top baths, butlers sinks, piles and piles of ancient doors, and period costumes. Given space and a good budget, we could very happily buy up half the place!

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From there we began to explore the stalls….. St John has recently set up a stall in front of its arch, selling incredible loaves and cakes straight from the oven…. their custard filled doughnuts are legendary, and immense! Neals Yard Dairy and Monmouth Coffee, two of my Borough Market favourites, have also set up in the arches, and open up to sell their incredible cheeses and the best roasted coffee beans in London on Saturdays. We fell in love with the Green Chilli Jam and Smoked Tomato Tapenade from Pink’s, and so bought up a stock to cook with at home. But it’s not all fancy luxury stuff though, as we found Booth’s arch filled up like a good old school green grocers, bursting with colour and smelling incredible.

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Confused by too many coffee choices (there is also a Turkish coffee stall and several local roasters), we opted for gin instead….. We very much wanted to thank Pru of Sparrow Gin for tipping us off about the market, and once we’d found her we didn’t want to leave their glorious little space right in the middle of the action. Having set up a darling little cocktail bar within one of the arches, their retro melamine tables and mis-matched chairs now spill out into the market, creating the perfect place to kick back and people (and dog) watch.

With a larger cocktail list than we saw at the StockMKT, and their trade mark collection of vintage glass and service ware, I adored their set-up, right down to the vintage decanters filled with wild flowers, the piles of old books and the paper doilies each drink is served on. Oh, and the little bowl of water and sign for customers dogs is just darling…. we saw lots of super cute hounds in fact!

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Each cocktail is based around something from one of the amazing sellers on the market….I opted for their version of the Bloody Mary, the Maltby Mary which is served with a divine black pudding, whilst Adam went for the Golden Nest which is mixed with a yummy cider. Mine was served in a handled jam jar, with a generous hunk of black pudding pinned to the celery stick with a beautiful silver Cockerel cocktail stick…… the black pudding was an amazing accompaniment to the perfectly mixed cocktail, and probably made it the best Bloody Mary I’ve had. Adam’s vintage cut-glass tumbler looked like summer itself, rammed with Pimm’s fruit, and gloriously golden…. it was plenty boozey but terribly easy to drink! And because we’ve developed a taste for the grapefruity gin, we couldn’t avoid buying a bottle to take home!

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Having had my main course (a Bloody Mary can be classified as such, honest), we headed to the Eden Ice Cream stall for some of their very special chocolate loveliness. Using cream from the famous Roskilly herd in Cornwall, alongside Colombian cacao, fruits and panela, the ice cream is dreamily creamy, and divinely flavoured. All four flavours are reassuringly natural in colour too, and a percentage of the purchase price goes towards helping the Eden Project, so everyone’s a winner. Oh and I can’t not mention their darling little dog, Saucisse, a rescue dog from France, and certainly a highlight of our visit!

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Not really a market so much as a fabulously convenient collection of delicious delights, each stall boasts a personality that I think has been largely lost at Borough Market. The emphasis is on all things local, the experimental, and a buzzing atmosphere that you just want to spend hours in. Dubbed the food market for Londoners, I know I’ll want to return again and again, comfortably free from hoards of tourists, cameras, the over-priced and samey-samey.
Before heading home, we took the opportunity to have a snoop about the two larger antiques warehouses very near by….. again, I know we could spend a fortune in these given the space to keep our treasures in! And if you fancy a whole day out in the vicinity, there’s also the Bermondsey Square Farmers market just a few minutes away to boot!
Viva South East London!

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Something from the weekend…… My first stall at a craft fair!

Wow! That was tiring! Friday feels like weeks ago already! I had the most brilliant weekend, mainly because of my first ever stall at a craft fair……

Friday evening was mainly spent readying for the F.U.S.S Craft Market, for which I’d booked a table to sell some of my stuff. I decided I wanted to take a good range of everything I’ve made, and managed to finish off my Narnia jam jar scene just in time. I have been wanting to try out some new things too, but the week just ran away with me…. but I did manage to make a prototype for my map jewellery on Friday evening, whilst chilling out ready for the busy day ahead!

Crafting tiny coat hangers for my Narnia jam jar

Hand Made 'Tibet' vintage map necklace, by me

It was an early start on Saturday morning…. our journey down to Hither Green (in South East London, where I lived for many years) was somewhat hampered by a complete lack of tubes (despite our being within 5 minutes walk of four different lines!), and DLR. Even the bus we wanted to take to London Bridge was on diversion, so we had to struggle there with our bags and boxes on foot. Still, we made it to the little village hall in good time and I managed to choose a nice table right at the front.

I’d been planning out my stall layout on the dining table, so it was mainly a case of un-packing all my stock and the various bits and bobs from the house I’d brought along to help display them…… lots of my old books became stands for my many vintage button rings…. my smaller glass cloche hosted a little scene of my beaded flower jewellery….. our low candelabra was used to hang my Day of the Dead jewellery….. and one of my cake stands became a place to riffle through the little stacking rings and vintage button brooches I’d made. All in all I was quite pleased with my eclectic collection of treasures, and I was soon complimented on my presentation by kind stall holders and the first few shoppers to arrive!

My stall at the F.U.S.S Craft Market

I found out about the market from an old school friend who lives in the area and volunteers for the F.U.S.S group. F.U.S.S are a community group who work hard hosting fairs and dances to raise money to improve the area. The craft market was held to raise funds for their planting project, and the group managed to get some wonderful press coverage to boost attendance. And there were surely plenty of people that came! We met so many lovely local people, and a few from further afield (thanks for coming south of the river Kate and Jason!), and so a huge part of our enjoyment of the day was chatting to people. I got some great feedback on my stuff too, and gave out lots of business cards as well as selling eighteen items! I was so pleased that people like my things, and it was a real boost to see peoples’ reactions (and of course to make some money for my efforts too!).

There were lots of brilliant stalls there, with more hand made jewellery, prints, vintage treasures, clothing and pottery……my  favourite would have to be the wonderful Matin Lapin stall though, which was run by my friend Vixie and co-hosted by the lovely Alex with her Animal Cafe cards. Vixie’s stall was the one I wanted the most things from, and because I’m a very lucky girl, Adam treated me to one of her creations….. a hot air balloon brooch, in brilliant bright colours… I am now wearing it on a chain as a pendant but I love that I can pin it to a blouse too.

Hot Air Balloon brooch (worn as pendant), by Matin Lapin

'it aint ALL bad...' hand drawn and painted greeting card by Alex at Animal Cafe

The volunteers from F.U.S.S also ran a marvelous refreshments stall, with tea, yummy cakes and delicious home made soups for sale. The lovely ladies even came around taking our orders, so we enjoyed plenty of cups of tea to keep us going, as well as pea and mint soup, ginger cake and fruit cake. And the gluttony didn’t stop there, because my friend Emma (Never Eat Wobbly Jelly) had made some amazing flapjacks which we devoured too!

We left on such a high, having had so many positive comments and lovely chats! I have already received a commission from someone I met at the market as well as some more feedback on Twitter, and I’ve been invited to another fair too! Adam had a brilliant time as well, so it was nice to celebrate the high with him and know that he’ll be up for helping me at future fairs. And I definitely want to do more!

We celebrated that evening with a bottle of fizz (we are experimenting with sweet Prosecco as the drier kind doesn’t agree with Adam) and a Chinese take out, both of which I feel we deserved after our hard day’s work! We snuggled up on the sofa to watch Avatar (which looks ace on Blu-ray!) but soon after that had finished we were beat and crawled off to bed to fall asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows!

We’d planned a trip to the supermarket and the cinema on the Sunday, but seeing the lovely blue sky outside we decided we wanted to have an adventure out and about. So we marched off to Brick Lane after our lunch of take away left overs, to discover some new markets to treasure hunt at. We wandered about for ages and found some brilliant stalls…. I came home with stacks of old sheet music, some slightly creepy porcelain dolls, a bulk lot of match boxes and loads of old books…. including another copy of the awesome Pears Encyclopaedia which I use to paint onto. I can’t believe my luck!

Treasures found at the Sunday markets

For supper, we feasted on smoked haddock with creamy mashed potato and buttered asparagus, before settling down to watch another episode of The Wire (starting to get into it now!). We spent some time talking through more ideas for things I can make, and I started on some little drawings, and then we were ready for a well deserved early night!

Very successful weekend all in all!

How was yours?

Ems x