Race for Life Preparation at Pizza Express

On Saturday I picked up my best friend and we headed on our two and a half mile journey to Huntingdon. We'd managed to find a hotel bargain and had access to their gym and swimming pool so we packed the correct attire and left towards lunchtime so we could fit some exercise time in.
Luckily our room was ready when we arrived so we took our bags up, I threw Christines retro-style bracelet gift at her whilst she waited for me to stop faffing, then when got ready and hit the gym.
After an hour in there, and around an hour in the swimming pool we headed back to our room to shower (separately!!) and get ready for dinner.
With wifi not working, I sat with a coffee and coloured in some of my Mindfulness colouring book whilst I waited for Christine to finish her turn in the shower.

Taxi ordered, we listened in to conversations in the lobby, resisting the urge to not laugh or get involved. As we arrived in Huntingdon high street memories flooded back of the days when I used to drive around the ring road during my driving lessons. I recognised the high street and thought back to the two job interviews I had there at Superdrug.

Pizza Express was easy to find as it was only around 3 metres away from where the taxi dropped us off. As we sat at our table we looked around and noticed it was full of all sorts of different people. Couples of all ages, a man and his grandmother, families, a table of 4 women, and I think this shows how good a menu is in a restaurant. I think it proves that there is something for everyone, and everyone in the restaurant certainly looked happy and relaxed.
We did discuss the fact that something was missing and this was that there was no music. We probably wouldn't pay too much attention to music that was on, however although it was something little it would have added to the atmosphere,

We ordered our drinks and an intro of roasted tomatoes, which were so full of flavour and mouthwateringly delicious, and looked over the menu. I usually have a habit of looking at a menu before I head to a restaurant but this time I decided to sit and have a proper look whilst I enjoyed my colg Pinot Grigio Blush. We weren't pressured to hurry up and order which was lovely, especially on a busy Saturday night.

We decided to share our starters, mains and sides and to be selfish and not share our desserts....the only part of the meal we had preplanned.
I wouldn't usually order a Risotto when out, I'm not sure why, it's just one of those meals that never feels special enough to order when there is pizza, pasta or steak available. But we did order the Risotto Fresco for the starter, as well as the Dough Balls Doppio, simply because Pizza Express dough balls seem to be the starter everyone has to have. I see so many comments about them on social media that it seemed rude to not order them.
The trio of dips served with the dough balls were amazing. Whilst I preferred to dip then in the garlic butter, followed by Pesto...which FYI I hated until that day! Christine took a shine to the harissa spiced tomato dip.
The Risotto surprised me and, confession time, would make me order it as a main when I next visit Pizza Express. Seriously, me ordering such a dish is unheard of so this is big news!

Then came the mains and the sides.
The Caesar salad was beautiful. I adore caesar sauce so I kind of kept the salad to myself (Sorry Christine!). The polenta chips were coated with rosemary and gran milano cheese, I know, I know, best chips ever right?! And they were, we really enjoyed them and they didn't taste too heavy which was a plus when we were already feasting on a carb heavy course. The only thing I would say, the polenta chips were served with a honey and mustard dressing. We didn't feel like this went with the rest of the meal, or the chips, so did end up leaving it to the side. I am usually a big fan of that dressing but it seemed an odd combination with the other flavours too.
Our two main meals were a Romana pizza and a pasta. The pizza was Rustichella, the waitress was really helpful and let us change the pancetta topping because my friend is weird and said she doesn't like pancetta (friendship fail!!) and instead we opted for smoky pepperoni, which worked just as well I expect. The pasta we ordered was Leggera Pollo Arrabbiata, and the waitress again was really helpful and informed us that some people find this dish too hot so if we wanted to we could order it with half chillis. We loved that she pointed this out to us as sometimes I feel you are left to your own devices when it comes to spicy meals. We did order with half chilli (half the amount they would usually put in) and although I didn't find it spicy I think it might be because I didn't actually get any chilli in my scoopful.
It worked really well to share our meals this way as we got to try two different dishes, and the pizza and pasta went really well together.

And then came dessert. Oh how we were ready for this moment.
I have to admit that despite knowing what I wanted to order because of looking at the menu in advance, it was a tough decision. It was one of those moments when you wish calories didn't exist so you could eat all of the desserts. But this wasn't the case....so for me, Tiramisu was the chosen one. Christine went for one of my other options, the Eton Mess Cheesecake. I think the noises we both made whilst eating these made it clear that we were enjoying them!
We both ate our last mouthful and sat back with our hands on our tummies nicely full, but not stuffed to the point we were uncomfortable. We finished our glasses of wine, and left to find a taxi back to the hotel.

We walked around Huntingdon for a while, taking a selfie as we stood near a water sculpture and discussed our plans for the morning. What time to get up and so on. But we didn't feel that pressure or nervousness that we had done before. We were relaxed, happy and well prepared for a good nights sleep and a successful 5k the following day.
Thank you Pizza Express for treating us to such an incredible meal and to a fantastic evening. One we really needed.

What we ordered:

Pinot Grigio Blush, Veneto, Italy

Roasted Tomatoes

Risotto Fresco
Creamy white wine risotto with oak-roasted salmon, garlic and fresh parsley, finished with rocket, Gran Milano cheese and a wedge of lemon
Dough Balls Doppio
New recipe: A double portion of our famous dough balls served with a trio of dips: pesto, garlic butter and pestorissa; a tasty harissa spiced tomato dip

Polenta Chips
Italian polenta chips with rosemary, oven baked and finished with Gran Milano cheese, served with a honey & mustard dressing dip
Caesar Salad
Cos lettuce, Gran Milano cheese, anchovies, croutons and Caesar dressing

Rustichella (Romana)
Pancetta, mozzarella and tomato finished with rocket, Gran Milano cheese, roasted tomatoes and Caesar dressing
Leggera Pollo Arrabbiata
Chicken with roasted red & yellow peppers and pennette pasta, in a spiced Arrabbiata sauce of tomato, garlic, fresh parsley and red chilli. Finished with Gran Milano cheese. Under 525 Calories. (You can ask for more or less chilli's on this. We opted for half chilli's and it was perfect)

Eton Mess Cheesecake with gelato
A twist on a British classic; strawberry swirled cheesecake on a crumbly biscuit base topped with whole pieces of meringue
New Recipe: Made by La Donatella, using the traditional Veneto methods and ingredients; layers of ladyfingers, mascarpone cream, coffee and cocoa



TT2015 Diary: Home of Rest for Old Horses

My TT Diary is a little all over the place. I still have the Wednesday to write about, however I wanted to get a start with writing about Thursday.
This was our first full day and we had a lot to pack in. Unfortunately our plans to get up early and go failed due to a late night out the night before, and me waking up with a horrid hangover. There's an experience for you....wearing a helmet and having your head bob around with a hangover. Fun times...

My brother planned our day, which was nice. I'm used to having to plan days out for the family so it was nice for someone else to take control of that and for me to just do as I was told.
During a ride out on his bike before I had arrived Dale had noticed 'The Isle of Man Home of Rest for Old Horses' and we decided that this would be our first stop on Thursday. We weren't there for long and actually it was a nice break for me to get off the bike and to get used to getting back on it.

As we pulled up in the car park we saw a big field, home to a variety of horses and ponies. It's lovely to stand there and to just appreciate the different sizes and quirks of each of these creatures.
My brother seemed to hit it off instantly with one of the horses, which was rather sweet. Although I didn't think this horse would let my brother leave!

Taken from the website:

The Home of Rest for Old Horses came into being in 1950 when Mrs Mildred Royston and her sister Miss Kermode, became dismayed at the number of perfectly fit, old, working horses being shipped from the Island for a doubtful future.

From small beginnings, hard work, dedication and a lean income, the Home progressed until 1955 when a fortunate legacy provided the means to purchase "Bulrhenny" where the Home is now.

Of particular concern, were the old tram horses, and today we have "first option" on tram horses as they retire.

Since 1950 more than 280 animals have found happy retirement. We presently look after over 50 horses and 8 donkeys.

Although it's not the kind of place you can spend all day it, it's fab to visit for an hour or so. There is a cute little gift shop and of course you can feed the horses and donkeys too. Not something I am ever brave enough to do, but my brother did!

The Home of Rest for Old Horses confirmed for me what a lovely island this is, with some super kind inhabitants who really care about the island and about everyone and everything on there.



There Is Nothing Like It

It still takes up a lot of space in my head. I think about it everyday, reliving the memories, wanting to keep them fresh, wanting to go back.
I send a message to my brother and ask him if this is normal. Surely everyone must feel like this? Looking back at photos and wanting to jump into them in a Mary Poppins/Bert-esque style.

Right now I am supposed to be writing something else. But it overwhelms me so much and when no one nearby gets it or understands then my only outlet is here.
I'm creating a custom laptop skin for a blog review. I open my photos and instead of going straight to one of my children I automatically open the SD card folder with my Isle of Man photos on. They are still on the SD card, I can't file them yet.
I wonder if I should feel guilty? Am I putting this experience over my children? And then I realise that it doesn't matter. I have a house with photos of them everywhere, and, I see their faces everyday.

The Isle of Man, the TT specifically, captured my heart and my head in a way nothing really has before. And that may sound awful, but it's true.
There is something about it.
There is nothing like it.

I look at the photos and I am reminded of those feelings. The excitement, the adrenaline.
The worry when you hear the race has been red flagged.
Sitting on the grass verge, somewhere you wouldn't sit on on a normal day with cars going at 50mph or 60mph but that you will happily sit on when bikes are going past at crazy speeds. No barrier, no wall, nothing to protect you.
It is scary, at first. But I think it is more the thought of what could happen, and not knowing what to expect. My brother had been down there before, a previous year, so knew what to expect. Yet at the same time, he seemed fearless. He wanted that experience, that thrill of being so dangerously close, and he wanted it for me. And I wanted it too.
There was a dip just behind us, and as I sat there I did wonder if I was stupid to sit on the verge, and to not put myself safely in the dip. I would just about be able to see because it was quite deep. But then, if a bike was going to crash, it would end up in the dip anyway.
I looked around and looked at how many other people were sat alongside us. I looked at the marshalls and realised that if this was as stupid crazy and dangerous as it felt, then we wouldn't be allowed to sit here.

I had promised myself and my brother that I would do whatever he told me to that week. I wouldn't complain about where we sat, I wouldn't complain about going out on the bike (I did a couple of times but he forced me to go and I loved it in the end). So I didn't move. I sat there. I held my breath at times, like when one of the riders, Bruce Anstey, got so close that he almost knocked my brothers phone out of his hand. (true story! See the video below...it's the second rider....obvs)

I look through my photos and everything comes back. Those feelings of adrenaline are almost uncontrollable and instead of being able to suppress them by having that experience happen all over again it manifests as tears. Uncontrollable, unstoppable, unexplainable tears.
I look at photos and the blurry ones that I would usually delete become a strong part of the memory. They remind me of the speed, and of how hard I tried to get a photo, and of how impressed my brother was if I got a good one...especially if it was in focus.
Like this one. The one I wish, so bad, was in focus because the one on the left, that's William Dunlop. Part of the reason I am there. One member of the family that started my passion for this sport.
But despite it being blurry I actually kind of love it. I love that, gosh please don't cringe, it "tells a story". It shows the competitiveness, the race, the speed.
And it's a memory for me to show how close I got to William (without getting to actually meet him). Seriously, Google him if you don't know who he is and you will see why I like him so much.

Then there is the helicopter photo. Where I just snapped as it came over. In that real kind of childlike "Oooooo helicopter. First time I've seen one kind of way".
The camera settings weren't right so the colours are duller than they were in real life, really it's an uninspiring and pretty meh photo.
But today, when I was looking through my photos, this one gave me goosebumps.
It reminded me of how we felt as we sat and waited. The bikes might start at a certain time but it can be something like 20 minutes until the first one goes past you. You can hear them as they get closer, and you see the crowds along the road in front of you lean over to get a better view and get their cameras ready. You see the bikes in the distance, depending on where you are stood/sitting.
But one of the best times, is when you see the helicopter in the distance. When you hear it and you watch as it follows one of the riders around the track. You know that this means it's one of the top riders too.
And as the bike gets closer, the helicopter follows, and those two sounds together.
There is nothing like it.

I didn't see the appeal of the TT before. I didn't understand why people would stand and wait to see bikes that ride past so quickly at times that you almost get whiplash. I didn't see why anyone would find that fun. I didn't see how it was better to be there than to watch it on tv where you could actually see the bikes and follow them and not need a radio tuned into the local station to keep up with who is in which position.

But now, I totally get it. It's not about seeing them clearly, and watching the riders go around the whole track. You realise just how fast they are going not only by the speed as they go past, but at how quickly they are passing you again.
It's not exactly a short and easy course. How they do it I do not know?! It's a wonderful skill and talent that they all have. One where you would love to know what it feels like, and to experience it, but at the same time, know that if you were on that bike or even on the back of the bike, you wouldn't cope at all.

It might be coming up to two months since I went. And this time last year it wasn't even a thought of mine to go. I wasn't interested, I didn't see the point, I didn't even like motorbikes, even the sound would annoy me.
But now...there is nothing like it.



#letscocktail Chi Chi and Vodka Crammed with Berry

When you think of cocktails are you the same as me? With an image of a beach, or a cocktail party coming to mind?
I enjoy cocktails more than I do a glass of wine. I like the variety of flavours, the different ingredients and the wide range of cocktails available. I do find drinking cocktails a rarity though. They have to be made right, but can also work out quite expensive.
So, I thought, with the opportunity to recreate some cocktails I decided to go against what that usual image related to cocktails, and instead decided to make cocktails simply for myself.

So, working together with thebar.com, I decided to look up some quick, easy, but guaranteed to be tasty, recipes.
I specifically looked for tropical flavours. Something with coconut, pineapple, and similar ingredients.
I soon found the Chi Chi. Similar to, and inspired by, the Pina Colada, this cocktail is AMAZING.
You'll need....(the following ingredients serve enough for 1...)

  • 50ml. Smirnoff No. 21® Vodka
  • 25ml. Cream of Coconut
  • 100ml.  Pineapple Juice
  • 1wedge(s) Pineapple

Simply add the Vodka, Cream of Coconut and Pineapple juice to a jar or cocktail shaker and then shake it, sh-shake it, shake it, shake it, sh-shake it, shake it like a polaroid picture. (sorry, couldn't resist). It does need a really good shake, for a while so that the cream mixes well with the lighter liquids. The coconut cream does start to curdle as soon as the Pineapple Juice hits so be quick!
I then served mine over big chunks of ice. The original recipe suggest crushed ice, and a garnish but I am a bit rubbish and had a garnish fail. 
Oh my though, oh...my. This is just....close your eyes and you are somewhere tropical.

Another super simple one, although so simple I almost didn't consider it a cocktail? And again, apologies for the lack of garnish #cocktailfail. However, it is super simple and if garnished correctly, and with some fresh or frozen cranberries added would be even better.

  • 1 part Smirnoff No. 21® Vodka
  • 4 parts Cranberry Juice

Again, it's super simple.
Pour your Vodka over ice. Add your Cranberry juice. 

Which cocktail would you create? If you make any cocktails this summer, make sure you share your images, and recipes, across Social Media using the hashtag #LetsCocktail.

This post is a collaboration with thebar.com.


That Island

It was over a month ago that I went there. Over a month ago since I returned. It was only 4 nights. Only 5 days.
But that island. That little island in the middle of the Irish sea. There is something so special about it.
I didn't expect to fall in love with it as much as I did. I didn't expect to still be thinking about it, and wanting to be there, to relive it all a month on.
I didn't expect it to be in my mind every day.

I wrote a diary whilst I was there. Each day has pages and pages of happiness and the most incredible memories. I planned to blog about it, because part of me wanted to share it. All of me wanted to share it. To shout about how incredible and amazing it was.
But then, I wanted to keep it to myself. I selfishly don't want other people to want to experience it too. I want it to be my thing. Even though part of me feels like I stole it from my brother, or I have tried to overshadow what it means to my brother.
But that's not the case. I will be forever grateful to him for introducing me not only to the island, but to the TT. To that indescribable atmosphere. Because of him I have the most amazing memories, and I still feel what it was like to hear the bikes go past. That feeling that pounds in your heart, in your head and all over your body.

So often I sit and although physically I am here, mentally I am back there. I am in that hot tent, waking up to my brothers voice as he tells me he's going for a lap on his bike. Then, I wake up again as he tells me to have my coffee and tells me the plans for the day and as he wonders where we will watch the practice races from that evening. I sit and listen to the radio with him. The mountain road is closed...again.
I hear sirens. I hear bikes.
I listen to the man in the tent nearby as he discusses, in detail, for a lengthy time how he is going to go for a "GoPro blast". He talks about it for so long that I almost want to tell him to just go, before the roads close for the practice run.

I eventually step out of the tent and I look around. It's just a rugby pitch, and we are surrounded by tents. I struggle to see another woman. There are some there, not many, but some. It is male dominated. But I don't mind. I don't feel excluded, or like I shouldn't be there. I don't feel out of place.
I smile at this community. These men, and a few women, who are all here for the same passion. They don't care if you don't know much about bikes. They don't care if you only know the Dunlops, mainly because you fancy William. Or that you have only heard of Guy Martin because of his tv series on Channel 4 and because his merchandise is everywhere. You are there. You are experiencing this with them. And that counts. That matters.

Mentally I am on the back of my brothers bike still. I am holding on tight, looking around and taking in the most magnificent scenery. I have my brothers voice in my head "When we go past crowds make sure you look cool", and yes, I pout a little bit and try to make sure that my resting face isn't one that could look like I am scared. Because I am not. I trust my brother, and I want everyone to know that.
Mentally we are exploring those special places on the island. We are sat in the pub in Peel eating a wonderful lunch. And I am sat there feeling like I don't deserve to be there. I sit there and I look at him and I wonder why he invited me. I wonder if he regrets it.
But I also sit there and I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I want everyone to know I am there with my brother. That he invited me. That he wanted to share this with me. Because he knew I would love it.

Mentally I am there, on the first night. They tell me the bikes are now coming. And I am having that panic attack again.
I am being comforted by my brother. And by the friend we had made. I am overwhelmed by the experience, without the bikes even going past. And then there is one, and another, and another. And I get it.
I get it.
I understand why he loves it so much.
I understand the obsession with watching the Youtube videos. I get the goosebumps. I get it all.

Mentally, I never left. And I don't think I ever will.

That island. The Isle of Man. Has stolen my heart.
And despite the fact I have been lucky enough to visit other countries and cities in the world I don't think any has made me feel the way the Isle of Man did.

I wanted to write about it, and I managed a few posts, until I froze. Because I realised, writing about it, means it's over. It is proof that those memories, of TT 2015, are just that. Memories. They are something I experienced. Past tense. And I can't go back. I don't want to accept that. I want to keep them there, in my head, for as long as I can.
If I write about them, then they may not be as fresh as they still are.
If I take the photos off my SD card and stick them in a file and a folder on my laptop then I am accepting that it's done. It's over.
Until next year?
It can't come soon enough.

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