Winchester Life Hacks

I love a good Life Hack…you know, those handy tips and quick fixes that save time and energy. Sometimes it’s the simplest tricks that make the biggest difference. Things like rolling your clothes instead of folding them when packing for a holiday – you can get so much more in and there are far fewer creases!

lifehack

I started thinking about some of my favourites tips and tricks for life in Winchester. After a few years of living here, you start to build up your own secret knowledge bank of how to make the most of the city. So here are a few of my favourites…

St Giles Hill – Avoiding the hike

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Views from the top of this panoramic spot in the city are beautiful, you can see out across much of Winchester. I personally love a trip up to the top of St. Giles Hill, however there’s no denying it’s extremely steep in places! The climb can require a certain amount of effort, which is itself rewarding, but if you’re feeling a little lazy or pressed for time, there are a few less strenuous routes you can take. My preferred one is to simply use the footbridge by the Chesil Street Multi-storey Car Park. This cuts the journey and the effort required right down, getting you to the top in no time.

Black Bottle – Make the most of your credit

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Who doesn’t love a trip to the Black Bottle now and again? Winchester’s unique wine vending machine venue is a great place to try different wines and relax with friends. After visiting, I often found I was left with odd small amounts of credit on my Black Bottle card, little did I know you can actually drink every last drop of your credit! Even if you don’t have enough left for a glass of your chosen wine, put your card in anyway and you’ll be rewarded with an equivalent amount of wine (this can work quite well if you pick one of the less pricey wines!). Is it just me who was excited to discover this? And am I the only one who didn’t know about it?

Bombay Sapphire Distillery – No need to drive

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Want to do the Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery experience out at Laverstoke Mill but don’t want drive and miss out on all the gin? Don’t be fooled by it’s rural location, there are a few public transport options from Winchester. You can catch the 86 bus, which stops in Overton, from there it’s about half an hour walk from the distillery (or there are shuttle services available). Alternatively, if you can hop on the direct train to Micheldever, there’s a shuttle service running to the distillery too – offering you a perfect, gin filled day out, with no-one having to miss out on the fun.

Christmas market – avoid the crush

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I love Winchester’s Christmas market, it’s my happy place…apparently a lot of other people feel that way too, judging by the significant queues to get in. Avoid the slow-moving squash of bodies to get into Winchester’s fabulous Christmas market by entering from the back. Make your way in via the archway at the end of College Street, where it meets with St. Swithun Street. You’ll get into the market much quicker and avoid the crowded Christmas crush (especially if you go on a week day too). Keep this one in mind for December people! I know it’s summer right now but you could familiarise yourself with the route in readiness for the festive season. There are some lovely independent shops in the area that are well worth a visit.
What have I missed? Tell me yours!
These are four Winchester Hacks that came to my mind immediately, I’m sure there’s many more I’ve missed and even some that I’m completely unaware of. I’d love to hear your tips for getting the best from our fair city, please do share yours with me.

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Dry-ish January – can it be done?

Last year as 2016 began my partner and his brother decided to do ‘Dry January’ – oh how I scoffed at the idea and made my lack of faith in them very apparent. But now that we’re in January 2017, I find myself wondering if I shouldn’t give it a go this year?

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It can’t be a completely dry 31 days, we’re going skiing at the end of the month and I don’t plan to miss out on the après-ski drinks…but can I last until the day before the holiday?

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No way am I missing out on the apres-ski action!

Incidentally, last January the boys only lasted two weeks (so I was justified in my lack of faith!). That said, we didn’t really go about it in the right way last year. With them off the booze, but me still on it, I made the excellent suggestion that we should drive to some out of town restaurants on the weekends (always looking at what’s in it for me!). The kinds of places that are near and you’ve always wanted to go but would be rather extortionate in a taxi…The Pig, Limewood, The Crab at Chieveley and the like. It was an amazing idea in theory, it meant we all got to experience the wonderful food at these places (and I still got to drink the wine). However, in practice it was total temptation of the highest order for the teetotallers! And it was the stunning bar out at The Pig in the New Forest that broke their will and saw them succumbing to a fabulous gin & tonic. It was a wonder that two dry weekends were managed with this approach really. In hindsight, going to lovely restaurants with amazing cocktails and wine lists was a terrible idea for those avoiding the booze (it worked well for me though!)…I’m surprised they agreed to it really!

So, after a very indulgent festive season and with a ski holiday coming up, I could certainly do with shaping up, losing a few pounds and generally getting back on track – and this is why I find myself contemplating a dry-ish January. I’ve never been tempted before, the closest I’ve come is giving up drinking on Fridays whilst on a pre-holiday diet and I found it incredibly boring! Never the less, I’m still feeling like giving it a go.

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I’m not sure how well I’d fare out in a restaurant and it’s the weekends I’ll struggle most with. Wine or a drop of gin, certainly makes you feel like it’s time to relax after a hard week of working. Lucky that I love tea really I suppose. This year we both got an abundance of board games, Lego, books and activity themed Christmas presents to keep us occupied, so perhaps this is the way to fill the weekends instead?

Have you ever done a month off the booze? What are your tips for staying away from the wine? I welcome any advice!

 

Recent finds

I’ve been up in London for both work and play recently and made lots of exciting foodie discoveries, I thought I’d share a few of my favourites here.

The Restaurant Show + The Bar & Pub Show

I was lucky enough to be working at this fantastic event and had a great time visiting different exhibitors and hearing their stories. Here are a few things I found…

Twisted Halo

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Health conscious but enjoy a drink? This is for you! Twisted Halo is a gently sparkling blend of coconut water twisted with ginger and muddled with premium vodka. At 90 calories per 275ml bottle, it’s light, fresh and very drinkable. I hope to see pubs and bars stocking it soon!

Curio Spirits

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Yes more booze – but I loved the Curio Spirits collection of gin and vodka. Made in small batches all the way down in Cornwall they were full of fragrant botanicals and natural ingredients. I liked their Rock Samphire Gin, made with Cornish spring water and quadrupled distilled with 15 fragrant botanicals, including Kombu seaweed.

The Snaffling Pig Co. – Pork Crackling

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If you watch Dragons Den you may remember this company, who had reinvented pork crackling as a high end pub snack. I had to try some and I wasn’t alone in doing so, their stand was very busy with people sampling the tasty flavours. Expect to see these in good pubs soon!

This is just a little snapshot from the show, there were so many other great things to see and try and talks to learn from too.

Stylist Live 

A week or so later I was back in London for a fun day out at Stylist Live. This is a truly amazing event, with so much going on. I could have gone to all the talks and bought so many lovely things! There are foodie stalls, gins, clothes, jewellery, interiors, make up – just everything. It’s fair to say I was a little over excited. So here’s just two fun foodie finds…

Crosstown Doughnuts – Matcha Tea Doughnut

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I have had the pleasure of sampling Crosstown Doughnuts before (they’re amazing!) but I’d never tried their Matcha Tea Doughnut before. With Match Tea being all the rage at the moment I had to give it a try and it didn’t disappoint. These sourdough doughnuts are on another level! Seriously indulgent but seriously worth it.

Rebel Kitchen – Raw Coconut Water

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From indulgence to innocence…this refreshing coconut water has no additives so it naturally turns pink in the bottle. I’d never seen coconut water with this pink glow before but apparently they’re the result of naturally occurring phenols (anti-oxidants to you and me). It tasted different to other coconut water brands and was lovely and refreshing. I’ll be stocking up on it!

xXx

 

Bring and Mix comes to Winchester

As much as I love Winchester’s night life, I’ve always said that it’s just missing a secret underground cocktail bar!

Well, maybe I haven’t always said that, but now that Bring and Mix has come to our fair city, it feels like what we’ve all been waiting for.

Tucked away underground in a rather mysterious location, Bring and Mix offers the perfect amount of prohibition era escapism for the evening. With gramophone music, low lighting and vintage styling you can’t help but get into the spirit of things!

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A sneaky snap of Winchester’s new pop-up underground cocktail bar, Bring and Mix

Speaking of spirits, this is where Bring and Mix is a little different to other cocktail bars – you bring along your own selection of alcohol. Simply take along your favourite spirits and the Bring and Mix team have all the skills and special ingredients to turn them into a delicious round of cocktails. This video explains it all…


I attended the Winchester launch of Bring and Mix (which conveniently happened to fall over my own and a friend’s birthday weekend), so I can tell you it’s great fun!

After a month which has seen my drinks cabinet hit quite hard, we were a little unsure of which spirits to bring. Of course I did have some gin handy (there’s always gin!) so we brought along Juniper Green Organic Gin but thought we better leave the amaretto, whisky, Pimms and sloe gin behind. That really would have been a recipe for a nasty hangover. So we stopped along the way for some vodka and white rum… if in doubt, it’s always best to stick to the classic clear liquids I find.

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Unexpected contents lurking in my drinks cabinet!

The talented Bring and Mix team turned our spirit choices into some fabulous cocktails, taking the time to ask what we liked and didn’t like and to talk us through the flavours we could expect. We even had a non-gin-drinker (they do exist) enjoying a gin based cocktail!

I dare say what with a double birthday celebration, we were all in rather high spirits to begin with but our two hours at Bring and Mix absolutely flew by in a whirlwind of fun, laughter and cocktail magic. I can highly recommend popping along to try out the experience – you can book tickets and find out more here. I’d be tempted to go again myself and perhaps put a bit more thought into my spirit selection. Who wants to join me next time?

Thanks to the team behind Bring and Mix for the invite, it certainly helped make it a birthday weekend to remember!

Hipster BBQ Guide

Well, the barbecue season is *technically* here, British weather permitting as usual. If you’re tired of seeing the same old things at a barbecues, here’s my guide to shaking it up a little.

Meat matters

I won’t go into the meat too much, suffice to say this should be locally sourced, from a farmshop, farmers market or quality butchers. You can eat supermarket meat on any other day of the week, get the organic, tender, aged, best you can buy for a BBQ. Plus, it’s better for our farmers and animals.

Plant-based popularity 228798011_0_640x640

Increasingly people are opting for more plant-based diets these days, veggie and veganism is more in fashion than ever, so make sure you’ve got this covered. I recommend these Aromatic Moroccan Veg Cakes from Great Foods (you can get them on Ocado, naturally). These are delicious and may event tempt a few meat eaters too.

Shrimp on the barbie

Don’t forget about the pescatarians too, this is a very popular way of life (I pretty much live it). As a child we would use freshly caught scallops to make our own family version of coquille st jacque on the barbecue – but to be honest a nice bit of salmon, king prawns or fish kebabs will do just as well.

Bye baps, hello brioche 

Yes, even bread has had an update. It’s out with the baps and in with the brioche buns with their beautiful golden shine. They’re the perfect accompaniment to a hearty burger and should be top of your shopping list.

Gin is inbrockmans-gin

Unless you’ve been living on the moon recently, you’ll know that gin is in. The quirkier and more unusual sounding your gin, the better! If you can get a locally distilled gin (like Hampshire’s very own Twisted Nose), that’s ideal. Another recommendation from me is Brockmans Gin, just make sure you’ve got the grapefruit peel, or at least the blueberries to go with it. If all else fails, Sipsmith is a great choice and it’s available in supermarkets. The mixer matters too, step away from the Schweppes and pick up the Fever-Tree Tonic, it’s the best!

Anyone for tea?hb

For something a little lighter but still alcoholic check out Harry Brompton’s Alcoholic Ice Tea for some sweet refreshment. It’s delicious and free from artificial flavours, colours and preservatives. You’ll be supporting a lovely British brand too, so cheers to that.

British bubbles

If it’s a celebratory barbecue occasion, cast aside the Prosecco and opt for an English sparkling wine – there are some truly fantastic ones out there. If you don’t have time to get to a local wine shop (like Winchester’s fabulous Wine Utopia), supermarkets like Waitrose have a few English wines these days, like the lovely Nyetimber.

Super saladssalad

Last but not least, the salad, often overlooked, people tend to think of it as that person at a party no-one really likes but you have to invite anyway. Personally, I don’t feel this way and put a great deal of effort into my salad making. I recommend adding cous cous or quinoa into the mix for a bit of texture and flavour. Use plenty of fresh herbs too, a little chopped coriander, mint and chives (my salad favourites) make a world of difference to how a salad tastes. I like to add a little feta cheese or mozzarella as well. Keep your salads bright with plenty of vegetables and textures and they’re sure to be more popular. I say that it’s high time salad stopped being a wallflower and took centre stage, so let’s make it happen!

Happy BBQ-ing everyone, fingers crossed for a glimpse of sun again!

xXx

P.S. Don’t forget your mason jars to drink out of.

 

 

 

Ultimate Relaxation in Mallorca

I’m pleased to report that the FoodTealife holiday diet (consisting of doing as many fast days a week as you can!) was all worthwhile. I’m recently back from magical Mallorca and feeling rejuvenated (or I was at least).

We stayed in beautiful Port de Soller, right on the cliffs over looking the ocean. The views were sensational…

Our room right on the cliff tops

Our room right on the cliff tops!

View from the shower!

View from the shower!

Certainly a room with a view

Ocean views

And then there’s the relaxation factor…endless swimming, the comfy beds, the lazy days, late breakfasts and long lunches…heaven!

Got to love an infinity pool!

Got to love an infinity pool with a view

I made sure to enjoy some traditional dishes too, including of course paella, sangria and a local vegetable dish called tumbet (a little like a Spanish ratatouille). There was plenty of fresh fish to try including scorpion fish which I’d never had before but thoroughly enjoyed. I would describe it as meaty but light, somewhere between swordfish and monkfish you might say. Let’s not forget about the seafood either…

Sumptuous seafood packed soup at Kingfisher in Port de Soller

Sumptuous seafood-packed soup at Kingfisher in Port de Soller

One thing the locals prided themselves on was their oranges, with the area being known as ‘orange valley’. And there certainly was a delicious and plentiful supply of sweet, fresh orange juice brought out at every breakfast.

Gin was the other big hit out there – with one bar having a gin menu over two pages long! It was popular everywhere and I took a real liking to a fragrant local variety which came with rosemary and juniper berries…and a huge fish bowl of a glass! I’m a fairly recent convert to gin I have to say, but if all gin tasted like it did out there I would definitely have started drinking it long ago…

Enjoying a small gin

Enjoying a small gin

A whole two pages of gin varieties at Cava in Port de Soller

A whole two pages of gin varieties at Cava in Port de Soller

...post gin

…post gin

A big shout out to the hotel and the cheery staff at the Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel who helped make our stay so relaxing.

So relaxed I went full on boho... (shameless balcony selfie)

So relaxed I went full on boho… (shameless balcony selfie)

And an even bigger thank you to my extended family for the great times, good company and  just such a wonderful weekend of absolutely blissful ultimate relaxation. What a heavenly week xXx

Holiday gang

Holiday crew!