A happy happy hour (or three) at Turtle Bay

At work, I sit next to our events manager extraordinaire, Natasha. During the course of an average working day, we’ll very often put the worlds to rights (while working hard of course – we’re first class multi-taskers) and our conversations will wander all over the place. But one thing they always come back to is food. We both like our food. Lots.

So when I was invited to review Turtle Bay’s new menu, the first major menu change they’ve introduced since the restaurant chain arrived in Bristol, I had to invite Natasha along to test it out with me. OK, so my husband was a little bit grumpy when he found out, but he’s reviewed so many places and products with me, I really don’t think he has too much cause for complaint.

We decided to put the new Turtle Bay menu through its paces at the Cheltenham Road restaurant, which opened last summer, and we had a brilliant night. But isn’t that to be expected at Turtle Bay? Well known for its delicious 2-4-1 cocktails (daily until 7pm and then from 10pm til close), reggae beats and sparkly staff, it has a reputation as the place to party. Continue reading “A happy happy hour (or three) at Turtle Bay”

Eating out: Turtle Bay

I have to admit to being slightly surprised when the Caribbean chain Turtle Bay invited my family and me to review their new Bristol restaurant, which has recently opened on Cheltenham Road. Having been to the launch event a few weeks back, I know it’s got a strong reputation for being party central and when I asked friends at work about it, all everyone talked about were the great cocktails.

Turtle Bay Collage

But since I was told that Turtle Bay is also very popular with families and since we love eating out with the kids, especially when there’s spicy food and good tunes on offer, well… we just had to give it a go. Continue reading “Eating out: Turtle Bay”

My Upfest gallery

I realise it’s all been a little quiet on the blog in recent weeks, but anyone that follows me on Instagram will know that the family and I have been thoroughly making the most of being back in the city since our return to Bristol in February.

Upfest Collage

This last weekend has pretty much summed up, for me, why I’ve longed to be back here, in this creative powerhouse of a city – albeit one of the most chilled out, laid back powerhouses you could wish for. For this weekend, street artists from around the world descended on Bristol (and indeed our very own patch of Bristol, Bedminster) in their hundreds for Upfest, Europe’s largest street art and graffiti festival. And the people followed in their thousands. Continue reading “My Upfest gallery”

Welcome to Southville

Southville Collage with numbers

We’ve been back in Bristol for just over a month now. The children are gradually settling into their new school, we’ve unpacked nearly everything, and we are finally falling into our new routines.

We loved our time in Somerset. For ten years we lived in the lush Mendip countryside between Frome and Radstock, where we’d see deer from our bedroom window, play pooh sticks from the bridge over the stream at the bottom of the village and build dens in the woods behind our house. It sounds beautifully idyllic, the good life in every way, and yet I’ve always missed the city. I am a city girl at heart you see, and have yearned to be back amidst the hurly burly, hustle and bustle, grease and grime of life in the metropolis. So thank you Somerset. You’ve been very good to us. But now we’re back in Bristol and ready for a whole new adventure. Continue reading “Welcome to Southville”

A double helping of foodie feasts

Love Food Collage

We’ve had a good food day today. A lovely Sunday roast followed by homemade cherry pie and ice cream. But it doesn’t compare with what we got to tuck into last Sunday. (Although I must say the cherry pie was pretty top notch. You’ll be able to judge for yourself, as I’ll be posting the recipe on the blog soon.) But last Sunday was rather special on the food front, as we were well and truly spoilt for delicious delights with not one, but two foodie feasts. Firstly an afternoon spent at the Love Food Festival in Bristol, and then an incredible five-course Italian meal in the evening, cooked by the marvellous Valentina Harris, for all those involved in the Wells Food Festival.

The Love Food Festival is the brain-child of Lorna Knapman and takes place throughout the year in venues in and around Bristol, showcasing and championing local producers from across the South West. Lorna has been described as a “food loving mum on a mission to create a sense of community and pleasure in food wherever she goes.” I like the sound of this woman! Dubbed Bristol’s Creative Quarter, The Paintworks on Bristol’s Bath Road is a fantastically vibrant location, and it regularly plays host to Love Food and that’s where we whiled away many happy hours last Sunday, talking to local food producers, growers and cooks and blissfully tucking into some of the best food and drink the Westcountry has to offer. That’s what Love Food is all about after all and we took full advantage of all that was on offer.

After devouring their Burger Theory burgers and Rib Street hot dogs (despite my best efforts to bring them up as adventurous eaters, meat in a bun is still their favourite form of street food – and my husband’s too for that matter), my daughters had a brilliant time making paper lanterns and dragons for Chinese New Year, as well as cute little yarn-wrapped sheep, perhaps in readiness for Shaun the Sheep’s imminent arrival in Bristol.

When I asked them what their favourite activity of the day was, both girls agreed it was making their own Chinese spring rolls and wonton dumplings with a little help from the head chef from the cafe at St Werburgh’s City Farm. They prepared them using those little wraps you can pick up at any Chinese supermarket and filled them with lots of fresh veggies. We took them home to cook for lunch the following day. They were so easy and very tasty too, especially dipped in sweet chilli sauce; the kids were so proud of their culinary creations and I’ll definitely be enlisting their help to make more again soon.

My personal highlights of the Love Food Festival were a beautifully spiced South Indian vegetable curry and parsnip and ginger pakora from Gopal’s Curry Shack, Henny & Joe’s rather wonderful homemade masala chai infusion (which I’m told also works a treat in a fruit cake – look forward to trying that out), and the gorgeously addictive Turkish delight from MKS Food Distribution. And it was so good to bump into Sarah again from Wookey Farm, just down the road from us in Somerset, who I was so pleased to see was doing a roaring trade with her goat’s meat, milk and cheeses.

The next Love Food Festival at the Paintworks will be on Sunday 29 March. To keep up-to-date with all their latest news and events, visit www.lovefoodfestival.com.

If that wasn’t enough, we then headed back down to Somerset for a special dinner hosted by Paddy and Judith O’Hagan who are both involved in the organisation of the now annual Wells Food Festival. A gathering of volunteers and supporters of the festival, we were treated to five mouth-watering courses by Italian cook Valentina Harris, chef and author of nearly 50 cookbooks and the chef behind last year’s stunning Italian Feast. Valentina created a whole host of beautiful canapes, followed by various pasta dishes (including macaroni cheese, which I devoured but was delighted when my daughter told Valentina it was good but not as good as mine!), then a delicious risotto, all kinds of naughty puddings and finally cheese and biscuits. Phew!

Valentina's puddingsI was far too busy scoffing and chatting to take any photographs, but I did manage to get a quick shot on my phone of the puddings – a chocolate torte, orange cake and pears poached in red wine and spices. Bang went my diet!

Valentina promised my daughters she’d send us her recipe for the poached pears as they loved them so much. Watch this space – I’ll share it with you once I’ve had a go at making it myself.

There was lots of talk that night about plans for this year’s Wells Food Festival, which returns in October. As soon as the details are firmed up, I’ll bring you news of that too. But rest assured it will be a joyous and delicious celebration of all the very best that Somerset has to offer in terms of food and drink.

Grilled salad of courgette, chicory, basil and mozzarella from ‘The Natural Cook’

The umming and ahhing is over. The decision has been made. Our house is now officially on the market and we’ll soon be leaving the sticks and heading back to the big city. Bristol, to be precise, which isn’t exactly a heaving metropolis and is actually one of the most laid back, greenest and coolest cities I know.

Bristol was home for us until our first daughter was about eight months old, at which point we decided family life meant a bit of the good life, the country life. And while we’ve loved it here and having space and green fields around us, a veg patch and apple trees, foraging in the hedgerows, picnics by the stream and drinking scrumpy at the annual village fete, it’s now time to crank the pace back up again with a bit of inner city living. You can take the girl of out of the city, but you’ll never take the city out of the girl, it would seem.

There are lots of things I’m looking forward to about being back in a city. One of them is not having to drive so much to get, well, anywhere really. I love the idea of being able to walk back home after a night in a restaurant, or at least being able to afford the taxi fare. And one of the restaurants I intend on visiting as soon as we’re in Bristol is Tom Hunt’s Poco on Stokes Croft, with its emphasis on seasonal ingredients, thrifty cuts of meat and sustainably sourced fish, most of which is sourced from within a 50-mile radius, and at the same time producing the minimum of food waste. Continue reading “Grilled salad of courgette, chicory, basil and mozzarella from ‘The Natural Cook’”

Ten things I learned at Bristol Blog Summit

Last week I attended a fantastic workshop in Bristol’s M Shed along with around 60 other bloggers from Foodies100 and Tots100.

In the space of six short hours I successfully managed to quadruple my blogging know-how, and at the same time got to meet a whole host of very lovely and down right inspirational food and family bloggers.

There’s no way I could share here all the tips, gems and nuggets I picked up, so instead I’m whittling them down to the top ten things I learned at the Bristol Blog Summit…

1. If you’re paid to promote a brand, use no-follow links

The whole question of whether links should be ‘follow’ or ‘no-follow’ has been one I’ve been meaning to get my head around for a while now. The main thing I took away from Tom Brennan’s talk was if you’re paid to promote a brand in any way on your blog, then the links you include to their website should be no-follow, otherwise your Google ranking could be affected.

Being paid by a brand refers obviously to financial payment but can also be interpreted to mean payment in kind, such as complimentary products provided for review purposes. So my next task once I’ve finished this post is to go back through all the review and giveaway posts I’ve featured to convert all the links to no-follow. Now while this is a bit of a grey area, I think I’d rather err on the side of caution.

If you’re a blogger but all of this sounds like gobbledygook to you, it’s probably a good idea you read this Tots 100 article on the subject or this post on WAHM-BAM Features.

2. Use tabs effectively on your Facebook page

I picked up so many great tips from Cathy James from Nurture Store on using Facebook and Pinterest to build audience and boost traffic to your blog. The first is to make sure you’re putting the tabs on your Facebook page to best use and use these to direct people to your blog and  your Pinterest page. Woobox is a very helpful app that allows you to do this easily. Likewise are you promoting your Facebook page via your blog, Pinterest and Twitter?

3. Ask questions on Facebook

Questions are a wonderful way to engage with people on Facebook. For some reason Facebook gives high visibility to questions and they’re more likely to show in people’s news feeds. I tried this out recently on my page and was impressed by how much interaction it generated.

4. Schedule posts and pins

It’s easy to schedule Facebook posts. Simply click on the little clock in the bottom left-hand corner of the status update box. This is ideal if you want to share timely posts with US audiences – a good time to post is between 2am and 4am. And if you want to schedule pins, Cathy James recommends PinGraphy. I look forward to giving this a whirl!

5. Share photos from Facebook to Twitter

Use the neat IFTTT service to auto-share the photos you post to your Facebook page to your Twitter stream.

6. Pin to blog board first in Pinterest

In Pinterest, your first board should be your blog board. Whenever you pin images, pin to your blog board first and then repin later to your specialist boards. I can’t believe I didn’t even have a blog board on Pinterest, so I’ve got a bit of catching up to do here!

7. Optimise images specifically for Pinterest

Increase your chances of repinning by optimising your photographs and graphics so that they look good on Pinterest. Look at any board and you’ll see portrait images stand out most. Text also works really well and it’s useful to include a watermark with your blog name. Picmonkey is an easy and versatile way to create beautiful collages, while I like using Picasa to add text.

8. With charities, make it personal

Many bloggers are approached by charities to get involved in their latest campaign, be it to raise money or awareness. But if all bloggers end up including the same stuff on their blogs, readers are quickly going to turn off and it’s not going to do you or your charity any favours.

So if you do decide to support a charity through your blog, make it personal and creative. As Christine Mosler from Thinly Spread said, make sure there’s a tie-in with the issues you’re already writing about, retain your own voice. And in the words of Annie Spratt from Mammasaurus, you know your blog and you know how to create a buzz with your readers. If there’s a charity you really like, don’t wait for them to approach you. Take your ideas direct to them.

9. Use a halogen light when photographing food

It’s a common problem for food bloggers that by the time you’ve served up your delicious meal, there’s no natural light available for taking good photographs. The advice from the wonderful Becky and Tom Arber is to invest in a halogen light, which you can get from somewhere like B&Q for just £12. You then bounce light off a nearby wall onto your dish to create a natural lighting effect. Alternatively you can use a desk lamp or even a torch. Also you should experiment with the white balance setting on your camera or use a photo editing tool like Picasa or Snapseed.

Becky and Tom Arber - thanks to this fabulous couple I'm going to save myself a small fortune as they helped me realise I don't need to invest in a posh camera!
Becky and Tom Arber – thanks to this fabulous couple I’m going to save myself a small fortune as they helped me realise I don’t need to invest in a posh camera to get professional looking food photos!

10. Blogging events aren’t scary

I can’t believe I was actually feeling quite nervous on my way to the Bristol Blog Summit. Everyone I met was friendly, interesting, down-to-earth and at the same time really rather inspirational, and I enjoyed playing the game of matching people to their blogs and Twitter handles. This was my first proper bloggers’ networking event and I can’t wait for the next one.

There is so much I haven’t covered in this post. If you want to find out more, take a look at this very useful summary of the proceedings over on Tots100, which also includes a linky to the other posts bloggers have written about the event.

A huge thank you to the uber-talented Sally Whittle and all at Tots100 and Foodies100 for organising the workshop, as well as sponsors Actimel.

Me and the very lovely Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog
Me and the very lovely Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog