Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Yates, Colchester, I am confused...

So Yates is/are having a makeover and Colchester was the first of their premises to get the new 'look'. I have never been into a Yates but must admit I was rather curious when I nosed through the window of the one in Colchester a couple of months ago. In fact I would go so far as to say I got a bit excited. And I tweeted them my excitement, then I 'Liked' them on Facebook. I was verging in stalking. I have an open mind about most things and any smartening up of the humble high street is a step in the right direction in my eyes regardless of whether it is aimed at me or not.

It was obvious that some very big changes were taking place, not just because it was closed, but when I looked through the gaps in the windows, there was colour. Yellow! Pink! Turquoise! Despite never setting foot in a Yates my impression of the chain was not somewhere that would have yellow, pink or turquoise in it under any circumstances. However, when they opened up I couldn't have been more astonished. It reminded me a little of Wahaca and some of the places we had stumbled across while staying in Brighton this summer. In short, it looked exciting! It has to be the boldest re brand I've ever seen. It looks like an entirely different chain. Bright, clean and contemporary. Hexagon tile flooring, colour co-ordinated furnishings and wallpaper, trusty filament bulbs, I thought maybe I might have slithered into their target customer group and was really excited to have this on the high street. Another place to go for breakfast maybe? . . .

So, in the spirit of supporting my local environment, I thought I would try out the new revamped Yates for breakfast this morning. No one is more surprised than me that I have just typed those words in a sentence, but when in Rome... First impressions were mixed, on the one hand the staff were very friendly, the place was clean (and they had made a good effort with the Halloween decorations), but on the other hand there were no other customers (you have to be a bit wary of being the only customers I think) and despite all the hard work they have clearly put into the decor, there were 3 fruit machines tucked in the corner, leftover from the old Yates no doubt. So as much as you wanted to feel that you weren't in an old pub, there was a garish reminder on the way to the toilets, staring you in the face, that you were in an old pub.

And when our food arrived, it was, unfortunately another reminder that this is still Yates and not quite Wahaca standard despite the fancy light fittings. We ordered their smaller cooked breakfast which cost about £4 each. On the upside, they used Heinz Baked Beans but unfortunately the positives stop there. The food arrived frighteningly fast. How did they cook it? Who knows. It was also on a huge plate which made it look a bit sad. If the plate was smaller the food wouldn't have looked so lonely. Juts a small point. Unfortunately we couldn't eat the sausage (no excuse for a poor quality banger in these parts) or the mushroom (completely dried out). And the tomato wasn't cooked. So overall, sadly disappointing. There was so much promise but unfortunately if the food isn't up to snuff, its all a bit style over substance. Boo...

Ultimately, I think it was a really brave move of the company to go for such a dramatic rebrand and I really wanted to have a good experience today but now its not clear who their customers are. It's left me a bit confused. It surely can't be their old customers as its such a totally different place but it also can't be an entirely new crowd as the food is not quite good enough. Maybe they need to establish who their target market is in order to move forwards. Personally,  I would be happy to pay a couple of quid more for a better sausage and mushroom, especially as we are in an area with such amazing produce, but maybe they want to keep the prices low so they don't lose their old customers. Who knows. I don't. Anyway, its a shame. They have made such a huge leap in one way but held back in other ways. Hopefully this may be early teething problems as there is so much potential, great staff, good decor that its a shame not to go for it 100% with the food too. Good Luck Yates, you can do it!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

High Woods Country Park, Colchester + Baked Apples

Little children seem to have a lot of energy. My small toddler son literally can't sit still. He's like a Terrier at the moment, so today's challenge was to find somewhere to go for a thorough 'work out'. Since it is the school holidays and most places would probably be heaving, I ruled out the Zoo, the Park, the Swimming Pool, the Castle, the Coast and the Stuffed Animal Museum (really, this place has EVERYTHING a small child could want). Instead, and since it was such a beautiful day, I thought we could check out High Woods Country Park. Again, I think Colchester Council are missing a trick not marketing this place better, its great! And only 10 minutes from the High Street and even less from North Station. Another jewel in the Crown of the Worlds most modest Town...

The main entrance to High Woods is tucked away on Turner Road where you will find a decent sized Car Park, nice (clean) Toilets and a Visitors Centre. The Park is free to enter and covers woodlands, marshland, wild flower meadows and also has a lake where you can do coarse fishing (if you have the correct licence obvs). There are also 3 great play areas for kids of different ages ranging from a climbing wall for the older ones to a sweet little area for toddlers. It has Green Flag status (which I think means its very well kept) a Community Garden where you can learn about plants and bugs and other woodland shenanigans AND a Forest School. Wow.

Older children's climbing wall.

Little toddler play area. Very sweet.

Medium sized children's large play area.

Beautiful Woodland.

I am hoping this is part of the Forest School and not something more Blair Witch like.

Walk to the the lake.

The lake.

After all that exploring, ditch jumping, stick searching, leaf collecting etc etc we were both tuckered out, but before bedtime we made a little treat of baked apples. The easiest and cheapest of puddings known to man.

Baked Apples

Per Person:

1 x Cooking Apple
1 x Tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 x Tablespoon Dried Cranberries (didn't have raisins, actually worked out ok)
1 x Teaspoon of Almond Flakes
Sprinkling of Ground Cinnamon
Knob of butter

Preheat the oven to 180 (Fan)
Wash and core the apples. Place apples on foil in a baking tray.

Mix together the dry ingredients.

Put the butter in the bottom of the core hole (?) and spoon the dry mixture in.
Leave in the oven for 25/30 minutes or until the apple is soft and the sugar has melted.
Leave in the turned off oven while you eat dinner so its the perfect temp when you eat it.
*If you eat it straight from the oven, say 'Adios' to the top of your mouth*

Serve with Ice Cream/Cream/Custard. 
We had none of these, we won't make this mistake again.


Friday, 24 October 2014

WONDERFUL Gunpowder Gertie, The Waiting Room, Colchester

Trying to find things to do with a small child in a place where you are not familiar and don't have many/any friends is hard. The few people I did know when we first moved here were at work during the day so not around to mop up my tears of despair and answer my reoccurring question of "Have we done the right thing? Have we done the right thing? Have we done the right thing? etc etc etc". I'm pleased to say now though that things have definitely improved after being in Colchester for almost 2 years. But last year was the loneliest year of my life. I don't know what I was expecting but it was harder than I could have imagined. I was so desperate for friends I went on 3 Park 'dates' with a woman who stopped me in the street simply because I had a buggy and she had a buggy (therefore we must have a few things in common right?). However, it was on the 3rd 'date' I realised I had never actually seen what was in her buggy as the contents was always covered in a muslin. Just because there is a buggy, doesn't mean there is necessarily a baby in it. Our friendship deteriorated/ended soon after. (My boyfriend and I also used to bid farewell to any workmen that came to work on our house with a "See you again, if ever you want to go for a beer, please let us know. Please....? Hello...?...").

Luckily the situation has improved. Like most traumas you will experience in life, it just takes time to get through them. I have also come out of my shell a bit now, you just have to put yourself out there, make an effort and embrace your new surroundings. Now we have some really good friends here and also now my son is no longer a baby but a walking, talking little person, life is so much easier. What has also made life a bit easier in terms of meeting people and having things to do on our doorstep, is The Waiting Room. I have mentioned this place before but it really is great. Not only for the creative events they organise and the awesome pop up food nights they host, they now have a weekly baby/small child event! Hurray!

'Gunpowder Gertie' (made up name) is WONDERFUL. So great she really does deserve capital letters. She runs her session every Thursday (although not next week as its half term) from 11am for about 90 minutes. It costs £5 per adult/child combo which includes a hot drink for the adults and a water/juice and snacks for the little ones. The amount of effort 'Gertie' puts into these sessions is second to none (and I have been to quite a few other 'kiddie events' both here and in back in East London so I do have something to compare it to). I have never witnessed such enthusiasm in a  person, ever. Each session has a different theme, previous weeks there have been insects, dinosaurs, the Circus. The session starts with some gentle exercises that my son has yet to participate in, then there is music, stories, toys to play with, musical instruments, dressing up clothes, colouring in stuff, everything a small child could want. If this event was in Hackney, there would be a queue out the door for sure. I know of certain weekly kiddie events in East London that were so swamped you would often make the effort to go and then not get in. So disappointing/annoying when it can sometimes take so much effort just to get out of the front door with a small person.

The atmosphere is also WONDERFUL. 'Gertie' has such a warm, welcoming manner that it's impossible for everyone (adults included) not to have a great time. She would be your favorite teacher at Primary School if she was your teacher at Primary School.  I can not say enough good things about this particular event, and no I'm not on commission, just trying to spread the word of some of the great things going on round here. And this has become my new favorite great thing going on round here.

I would love to have posted some photos of her session but sadly the times we live in make it a bit dodgy to take photos of children's events so unfortunately this short post doesn't do it justice. However, any local parents/guardians looking to find a fun / educational / relaxed activity to take a small kiddie to on a Thursday morning must come to this. It's WONDERFUL.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

'Apple Day' - Lathcoats Farm, Beehive Lane

Not a lot of people know this, but today was 'Apple Day'. Or tomorrow is 'Apple Day' depending on what day you have decided to celebrate it this weekend. I did not know about this celebration myself until yesterday when I was trying to find somewhere interesting to meet our new local friends. 'Apple Day' is a day to celebrate all things apple related (orchards, apple juice, actual apples, toffee apples, apple pies etc etc) and began relatively recently in 1990. The first 'Apple Day' took place in Covent Garden but today we celebrated this special day by visiting Lathcoats Farm in Chelmsford, half an hours drive up the A12 from Colchester.

Lathcoats Farm have been growing fruit since 1912 and their Farmshop recently won the award for Essex's Best Farmshop. As well as the Orchards that grow the fruit and the great farmshop, they also have a Coffee Shop, goats, donkeys a couple of pigs and they allow you to 'Pick Your Own'. Today they also had apple tasting, children's archery, donkey rides, a craft barn, mini tractors, toffee apples, a farmers market and an apple pie contest. Sadly, the weather today was pretty dire. Not cold, but very grey so the photos don't do the place justice at all. However, despite the gloomy skies we had a fun afternoon out and shall look forward to next years 'Apple Day'. Whether our new friends enjoyed it remains to be seen. I'll let you know if we hear from them again.


Apple tasting

I love clear sign postage

All time fave, Pygmy Goats

Little Donkey

Awesome kids craft area. 
Who knew mud and pine cones could be so creepy.

Big hairy pig

We picked up a couple of these bad boys for our upcoming Halloween tea party

Old house in a tree.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Hudson + Hudson, North Hill, Colchester

Lots of changes occur when you have a child. The biggest change that happened to me aside from the obvious physical things that people rarely mention and I don't want to think about ever again, was that my social life pretty much ground to a halt. Pre-child, I would be out on average 3 nights a week. Post-child, I'm lucky if its 3 nights a year. So instead of going out restaurant-ing (and boozing) in the evenings, my other half and I found ourselves going out for breakfast a lot instead. We were up early anyway and only ever seemed to have full fat milk, Peppa Pig Fromage Frais and off Houmous in the fridge so it was almost a matter of survival to go out looking for food.

When we first came to Colchester we felt frustratingly limited in the choice of places to go in the mornings and this was one of the things that made me feel like an idiot for leaving London. I felt like we had moved to the land that time forgot. I wanted to open my own Coffee shop just so I had somewhere to go. However, we then had to remind ourselves that it was only in the last 18 months of us being in Hackney that we had breakfast on our doorstep. The Picture House was great (but often didn't serve breakfast until 10:30am), Wiltons was another favorite (but only had 3 options-bacon roll, goat curd on toast, yoghurt). So my knee jerk reaction to look back and think everything was rosy in London Town, wasn't helpful. And if there is 1 thing I should have learned form 18 years of living in East London it is that places can change. When I first moved to Hackney Black Cab drivers would refuse to drive me home after work from Soho, but by the time I left in 2012, Hackney had hosted the Olympics and is now one of the most expensive and desirable places to live in the UK!

So it was only a matter of time that things would start improving here. We just had to bide our time, and you can imagine my joy, when in January, I discovered an awesome new food place - Hudson & Hudson. I was so happy, I probably cried (I used to do that in Hackney when new places opened up, I can't help it). Again, it is another example of a place here that keeps a low profile and doesn't really like to let people know it exists. I don't know why that is. I think it had been open about 6 weeks before we found it. When I am not working I plod the mean streets of Colchester daily so its pretty hard to open anything round here without me sniffing it out! If this was my place I would be telling everyone about it, via Social Media, by having a mobile coffee cart at the station in the mornings, by leaving loyalty cards around, that kind of thing. I don't know why they don't but it doesn't take away from the fact that it is our favourite place to go for breakfast..

Delicious wines.

Deli counter.

Babycino and complimentary biscuit. 
I didn't know what Nescafe instant was until I was 21 so my son really is living the dream!

Bacon + Egg butty. The breakfast of kings. And tired parents.

The upstairs room.

The Courtyard.

The dining area. 
I believe they used a lot of the old materials from the Joinery shop to make the tables.

Hudson and Hudson is built in an old Joinery shop, just off of North Hill and behind Williams + Griffen's.  It is a Deli and Restaurant with a great outside courtyard and a small function room that can be hired for private events. We go here at least once a weekend for their awesome breakfasts. £6.50 for a Full English made from delicious local produce. The Chef here is GREAT. When we were there for breakfast last week we saw him making the bagels for the lunchtime Salt Beef Bagels. Imagine that! He was making the bagels in house! He also makes the bread, all hot drinks are served with a complimentary home made biscuit, the home made sausage rolls are sensational, it's basically all very good. On Sundays they do Roasts, and when the weather is good they have BBQ's in the courtyard. Obviously we have never experienced anything other than the breakfasts due to us still living in a semi twilight zone with our toddler, but I have heard its really great in the evenings.

The other reason why we love it, apart from the standard of food, is that all of the staff are super nice and very friendly to my son. He often tells me he is going to Hudson & Hudson and that he will see me later. He is not of course, he can't open the front door, but it's places like this that are quite special when you have a small child. They make it so easy for us to go there, we don't really need anywhere else. They have highchairs (yay), they always make a fuss of our son (complimentary Babycino's) and there is a room upstairs that we can go in if we meet our other 'baby friends' for coffee.

It is definitely worth a visit, well done Hudson & Hudson, thank you for being you. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Homemade Halloween Part 1

My Dad loved Christmas. And Bonfire night, I remember indoor sparklers, home made celery soup and  my Dad in the garden with a bucket of sand on standby for any stray fireworks that might have set light to the conifers. But for reasons unknown to me, he hated Halloween, and on the 31st of October every year he made us turn all the lights off and sit in the darkness so Trick or Treaters would think we were out and not knock on our front door. But now, I live in my own house and live by my own rules Halloween is party time! Wahoo!

So we are having a little Halloween Tea Party for the local kiddiewinkles on the 1st November and I have been busy getting the decorations up for the last few days. I know Halloween is still 2 weeks away but since I finished my last job 2 weeks ago I have plenty of spare time for such endeavours. There are 2 places to source great (and cheap) decorations and ideas. Firstly 'Google images' (amazing) and secondly, Poundland. I know quite a few people who won't step foot into a Poundland, and I admit, I did feel a bit like that before I stopped working properly, but it is so mind boggling awesome! Seriously. I never buy Fairy Fabric Softener, Finish Dishwasher Tablets or Haribos from anywhere else. Anyway, here are a few pictures of the decorations so far. Still need a better camera though.

I cut out some bat shapes from some black card (20 sheets of A4 for £1), folded their wings, stuck on boggly eyes/buttons for eyes and blue tacked them to the wall.

My son and I made this Pumpkin bunting by splodging orange paint onto the crease of a piece of A4 and folding it together. When the paint was dry we stuck green feathers on for stalks.

I cut some (crap but easy) ghost shapes and a sort of skeleton from more of the black card and stuck it to the kitchen windows. 

£1 bat hanging from lampshade.

My favorite purchase. A pack of 12 card "bats". I guess that's why they were in Poundland, I'm pretty sure these are spiders. I have stuck these all over the place.

Black paint hand prints and more boggly eyes.

A rather expensive Jielde lamp, bought when I had a job obvs,  makes a wonderful 'ghost stand'.  This was actually the most expensive decoration and was £5 from Wilco's (my other new favorite shop), but would be very cheap to make yourself. A £1 mask and some muslin or an old sheet would have the same affect. I think this particular decoration might have to come down for the party though. My son is not phased by it but I think the gaggle of 6 year old girls coming over might not feel the same way.

£1 hanging skeleton with unfortunate position of light switch.

I LOVE this. Some of the card "bats" strung onto a stick from the garden.

Free mini bunting printable from, printed out, cut up and stuck on some string.

Free food picks and straw labels printables from stuck onto some picks and straws I had at the back of my cupboard.

2 packs of £1 rubber snakes attached to a ring I made of pipe cleaners. It would be more stable on a ring made from a wire coat hanger but I couldn't be bothered to find one.

Dirty £1 rat in the bog roll basket.

2 x honeycomb pumpkins and 2 x lantern pumpkins each £1 a pack!

Finally, for the time being, some printed skull bunting I made by cutting a skull shape out of an old sponge and printing it onto more of the black card.

Until next time . . . .