Falling, Then Getting Up Again

Recently I was getting regular exercise, I was building a new network of friends for the first time since high school, I was both financially stable and comfortable and (for the first time in a year) I was crafting a future that I could to look forward to. Then I lost all these things in one day.

I don’t like failing at things. I’m a highly critical person, a conscientious type that feels anxious about mismatched socks, so when I fail after trying at something I don’t take it well. It’s disheartening, upsetting and the bigger the thing the harder it can be to get over. I’d like to take a moment here and blame books and movies for this, it’s not often that when the hero tries their best that they don’t succeed. This is what young adulthood is for, I guess, gradually learning that things aren’t fair.

Losing at games isn’t too difficult for me, it’s not as fun as winning, but I’m mature enough to still enjoy playing and participate. But I could have taken my recent setbacks better. Too many days I spent on the sofa, staring at the Gilmore Girls, gently weeping, getting fatter and seemingly more hopeless.  My situation has changed slightly now, I don’t have any more Gilmore Girls to watch for a start, but now I’m out the house at irregular hours for shifts in another job that I’m not sure how long I will have. Also, with Christmas approaching it is difficult not to be constantly reminded how utterly broke I am. But after three months of moping I finally ready to pull my socks up, it is getting colder after all.

I need to take care of myself. If falling down a flight of stairs drunkenly and having a banged up knee for weeks has taught me anything it should be that. Facing that long term happiness isn’t at the bottom of a pizza box will be a challenge, but I have to make myself stronger. I don’t necessarily have mistakes to learn from, I just need to develop better ways of coping with failure because I know that more bad things will happen in the future. How I deal with them will determine if I grow or wither.

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So for anyone reading this who is also having a bad time, here are somethings that might help:

  • Cry: let it all out, ugly snotty sobbing. 
  • Find a source of positivity. I follow The Rock on Instagram, he posts about keeping fit, working hard and sharing that success with others. His public personality is giving and caring, it’s nice to have reminders of a little good in the world. 
  • Talk to your family. Whether that’s a partner, parents or friends. Hug and blow your nose on their t-shirts. If you would be there for them trust they’d do the same.
  • Leave the house. Some days leaving the bed can be hard, never mind washing/dressing/looking remotely presentable enough to be seen by outsiders. But fresh air is dope and leaving the house to get milk or visit the park can really make you feel better. I wish I had done so more. 
  • Take away things that you use/exploit in bad ways. For some people this could be eating all the chocolate in their house at once, for others it’s drinking certain types of alcohol alone until they can’t pick up the cup anymore. Just don’t hurt yourself more than you are already hurting.

So this is me saying hello again. I hope you are well like I’m trying to be.

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On The Plate: Grub

Where: Mayfield? Near Piccadilly station in a building site with fairy lights
Price: ‘Trendy’ (overpriced)
Tastiness Factor: 2-10
Return Custom: Maybe during the afternoon, if it is nearby

What can’t fairy lights do? I ponder sipping a cool beer sat at a table underneath the scaffolding of a building site. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. Hipster faux-utilitarian design taken a little more literally here where the metal piping is used to hold up tables and unfinished buildings. It works though, and the lights make everything a bit softer and look less like a building site. But let’s not kid ourselves, I’m no fool, fairy lights do not maketh the food establishment. That’s the food’s job. And at Grub there’s plenty of choice–if you get there early.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived was that there weren’t as many stalls as I had expected. No doughnuts or mac and cheese. Some of the stalls aren’t always the same but this was a little underwhelming. Particularly so after I spent the day pining over doughnuts from the Manchester Doughnut Company, that had been there the evening before. Google them if you want doughnut cravings so bad that the next day you will visit every shop within a mile radius of your house on foot in search of any doughnut only to be left empty-bellied and sobbing on a Sunday evening. Or so a friend of mine told me… The moral of the story is don’t believe in everything you see on Instagram. And no, that isn’t a typo, I believed in exquisite doughnuts.

Trauma aside, there were other stalls, six to be exact, and we tried something from all but one. No particular reason for the omission other than the size of our appetites and what we fancied.  We started with a steamed chicken katsu bun. The accompaniment of the warm soft bao bun with crispy katsu chicken was perfectly comforting, flavoured with the contrasting tang of pickled veg with creamy wasabi mayo. There wasn’t enough wasabi to get a taste of it, I understand that it is a difficult flavor to balance but after being used as a part of the description a mild burning in the nostrils would have been nice. Plus there wasn’t much food considering the price.

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Next up was cheesy potato croquettes with garlic aioli.  I’m not too sure what else to say about it. They were obviously great. You can’t mess up deep-frying cheese and carbs and as a spokesperson for mayonnaise with potatoes and a lover of garlic it’s a simple but uber-delicious combination. High on all necessary food groups to induce what feels like a hug for your tum. The contrast of the crispy potato shell with its gooey soft insides maximises texture pleasure reception. (And yes that is a thing!)

The stealer of the show, and possibly my heart, was undeniably the calzone. Fried dough pockets of cheese and fresh tomato sauce. I had never had a calzone before so I think I may understand what Ben from Parks and Rec is going on about now. But I’m quite aware that the calzones at Grub are of a much higher standard than ones that come with donner meat from a take-away that serves curries, burgers and pizza. This came from an Italian food stand whose crowning jewel is the hot oozing pizza pasty, known as the calzone. I’ve certainly been spoilt but I shan’t complain. Some first times are worth waiting for until the moment is right and this was the greatest moment. Lose your calzone virginity at Grub! If you have already had a calzone before, go and have this one too but don’t blame me when you don’t see the others in the same way any more.

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These foods I shared with my tall friend, to maximise our sample range. To fill up and explore things outside of our cross-palette Venn diagram. So I had, to describe plainly, a chicken sandwich. It was much more exciting than that; the bread was naturally gluten free and I can’t remember what it was now but it was big and surprisingly heavy. Filled with juicy spicy chicken with salad and avocado as tasty as it was messy to eat, which is quite. A few bites left and I had to hand it to my tall friend to finish off. It was the best value for money in terms of quantity.

But something was missing. I was craving the sweet release of fluffy dough and sugar. Then I made a mistake. I spent £3 on an upside down cupcake, whose flavour was described as ‘burnt butter’-that is a mistake, not a bold step for baking flavour profiles. It was disappointing and made me feel sad. And yes, that is a pathetic image. But maybe not as much as how this drove me to crying on a Sunday then eating four doughnuts after a bowl of zoodles on a Monday.

Grub is a good shout if you and a few friends can’t decide what to eat on a Saturday afternoon. Trusting that you are OK being ripped off a little, which is the cost of having multiple cuisine options that are high quality. If you go and get to eat doughnuts don’t tell me–or better–bring me a vanilla.

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Love

There have been a number of things that I imagined as a child that didn’t quite turn out as I expected. Expectations that were quite often set by films. There wasn’t a magical transformation between the ages of 14 and 17 in which I blossomed into a slim and beautiful woman worthy of a slow-mo sexy music intro in an early 00’s  male-lead rom-com. I’m not a talented tortured artist type whose depression is important because it makes you take me seriously. Depression makes me burst into tears in the middle of the day for no reason rather than contributing to anything creative*.  I’m not adopted nor have I developed any variety of superpowers, I’m utterly lacking in that ‘something’ that makes a children’s story heroine. When you are an adult you can buy anything you want at the supermarket and eat biscuits for tea if you like; this isn’t entirely untrue, getting drunk and eating three meal-sized portions of food from McDonald’s has happened but I ‘treat’ myself to raspberries these days because that stuff is expensive. To name a few things… But there is one thing that I got nearly right, but I’m quite happy to have been a bit off the mark.

When I was 11 I didn’t have a very high opinion of myself, something that dropped lower and lower as my teens progressed*, so much so that I couldn’t imagine ever meeting someone that would want to marry me. I wasn’t really someone super invested in the whole wedding fantasy thing, which I feel is more of a rom-com trope that it is real life, but from a young age I had that downer of a thought. This story doesn’t end with a wedding, this isn’t a pre-Frozen Disney princess film, but it turns out good. It is a pretty stupid thought to have and maybe if I could talk to the littler me I would tell myself that. “Dude you seen how many ugly people there are that are married and made babies? That could be you, you serious nerd!” That or something a bit less Anna Kendrick-y, because–let’s face it–I would have some serious emotional ground to cover to prepare myself for the ensuing 12 years. I don’t doubt that everyone would. Even if it is just to prepare for the embarrassment of drunken events.

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I think that the thing is, love always seemed so special and rare so why should I get that? I was right and wrong. And I’m glad to be both. I’m a romantic. Kisses in the heavy rain, holding hands, getting sad at train stations when you say goodbye and looking into the heart of the TARDIS so that you can get back to them and defeat the Daleks together. You know, the cheesy stuff that films say are real but your very cold and unromantic world says aren’t. Getting slowly older, and less of a teen, without having as much of a whiff in the direction of such things was difficult. Couples that had been together since before I was born were divorcing. Just like my grandparents (both sets) many years earlier. There were always ends. And there still are Brad and Ange, Chris and Anna, little things that make you doubt.

Turning 20 was a bit of a landmark. I wasn’t interested in waiting around for love anymore so I gave some to myself*. Then a bit more. Then I found that self-care didn’t just mean the ‘be nice to yourself’ stuff but also the ‘stop eating white bread’ and ‘stop hurting yourself’ stuff. I guess ‘stop hurting yourself’ might seem obvious, but we hurt ourselves in many ways. Thoughts more often than not. When I turned 21 I had lost a few fucks and a couple of stone. Loving came more easily to me because I realised something I wish that every 11 year old girl could say about themselves: I am worthy of love and I’m pretty darn great.

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Forever 21

Now the turn of events is pretty cliché. I’m not going to tell anyone that you have to love yourself before you find love somewhere else. Because we all deserve love, with the exception of neo-Nazis and people who walk slowly side by side with their friends on a busy pavement, nobody has to earn it. But learning to love and care for yourself is more important, other people die, or worse, go bald. Self-love is very difficult. Sometimes I doubt if things have really changed that much for me when I feel sick looking at myself naked and pinching at my flesh. But those feelings don’t linger like they used to. Part of this could change, if you aren’t well you can’t help the way you feel about yourself (hence, everyone deserves love even if they don’t think they do). Yet day by day, week by week things are much better. Bad thoughts come, but they don’t stay as long.

I knew that I would fall in love fast. Luckily I had a couple of false starts before the real thing. I got a taste of what it shouldn’t be without making any real investments. So as it happened I kept pausing, “Is this for real?” It was after 10 days together that I really knew. Not 10 continuous days, it was a little under a month, but 10 times of seeing one another. I knew because the words were pushing my tongue against my teeth. I was hearing them when they weren’t said. I felt them sweating out my palm. Of course though I couldn’t actually say them. Don’t be so crazy, I’m a writer not a performer. They were too precious. What if I said them wrong? They could break me.

But they didn’t. So now I get to say them everyday, thank you for my cup of tea – “I love you.” I like holding your hand- “I love you.” My face hurts from smiling too much when we are together- “I love you.” You bought me pyjamas with personified sushi on them – “I love you.” You made me sad but I forgive you- “I love you.” You’re my best friend- “I love you.” So few words that mean so much. And much more than I had hoped. They wrote the poems, painted the pictures, made the films and sang the songs but it is but better than all of that. It’s funny, weird, exciting but ultimately right. So right.

I’m glad I was proved wrong.

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(*I’m OK though.)
(*Seriously I am OK now.)
(*No not that kind of love!)

Returning to the Magic

The winter I turned seven I remember standing in a long queue at the cinema after we had bought our tickets. There were a lot of people waiting to see a film and there was undeniable excitement in the air. There aren’t many specific memories that can be clearly recollected from childhood but this is one of mine. A memory of waiting to see the first Harry Potter film.        

These circumstances aren’t usual or even unique but they were well timed. I was seven and unable to really read anything much more complicated than a Beano. Reading the Harry potter books wasn’t something I could do until I was in middle school, but I had heard of them. And as a seven-year-old I was dissatisfied with the limitations of youth and thought the children a few years older than myself seemed so grown up. Harry, Ron and Hermione were set to guide my aspirations. Heroes is a strong word, such titles are reserved for the likes of Miss Buffy Summers, but I cannot deny being encouraged by Hermione’s unapologetic know-it-all-ness. She made me want to be brighter, smarter and prouder for it. Which is partly accountable for my saying things that sound smart but not actually being sure if they are correct or have any substance. But I’m not a doctor so it’s not too important I’m right all the time. Just as long as it seems like I am.

Anyway, I was hooked. How could I not be. A new film every year or so unit the age of sixteen. Until I was leaving High School. The characters growing older with me, their school years taking place alongside mine. They had homework and awkwardness like me, but they had adventures and through the films, and later the stories, I got to escape from the muggle world into their magic. In many ways it is quite a gift to have in my generation. And is something I’m keen to share with the new generations, such as my sister ten years younger than myself. Legacy is a big word but that is what is being nurtured for Harry Potter. Perhaps just more ways to make money, but less cynically new ways to enjoy something we love and to have others experience it anew.

For my eighteenth birthday party I dressed up as Hermione and I then went to the Harry Potter Studios with my best friend as a present. To stand among the places you dreamed of visiting as a child while being on the cusp of adulthood is a powerful feeling. You know a lot more than you did over ten years ago but you have much bigger questions and fears. It was the perfect close to my juvenile years.

Now I still love Harry Potter but that love is less immediate, perhaps even less relevant, as my life is filled with newer things like career goals and exciting food. A couple of months ago my sister turned twelve and as a family we visited the studios together. There aren’t many things families do together, that everyone enjoys, but this is one. We all have our own love for Harry Potter. Each of us having our individual connection to the stories and world. In this respect Harry Potter is important, it is a force for good that brings people together. Money grabbing aside, the tour is special, the studios are a new place for expressing this love. Walking around now as a young adult I’m still affected by the wonder and detail of the cinematic world. There were a few new things to see which renewed my excitement. It’s odd that seeing all the tricks that brought the magic to life, looking behind the curtain, could offer wonder.

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All in all it was a great weekend, despite my having a migraine the night before I stayed in the hotel and ordered in some really tasty Thai food. Unfortunately, I don’t think that they will deliver to Manchester from Watford. I think that if you have already been when it opened there’s still lots to enjoy visiting again. I’m just saving up for my very distant trip to Harry Potter World in Orlando now…

On The Plate: Ring

So, this is long overdue. I can blame holidays and work or whatever but what’s important is that it is here now, a review of a truly wonderful place to eat at, Ring.

Where: Bottom end of Chorlton by the big park
Price: Super reasonable
Tastiness Factor: Yummy yummy yummy
Return Custom: Currently concocting my next excuse to be in in the vicinity

I love sushi! It is tasty, comforting, not unhealthy and incorporates one of my favourite foods, fish/shellfish. There is one thing that I don’t like about sushi, and that is the price. Shellfish and salmon are pretty expensive, so that is a factor, plus there is a good deal of skill involved in making the food, ensuring the correct balance of the delicate flavours and keeping the food fresh. So I get why it is pricey but when you are mainly eating rice it can feel steep. So naturally when I started reading about Ring (or Do Ring as it is listed online) I was highly interested in the tasty-looking and well-priced food.

Ring isn’t the fanciest looking restaurant in terms of decor, but that didn’t bother me as even without many people being there there was a comforting atmosphere. The crockery/serving ware was really good quality and everything was nice and clean. It’s cheerful and the staff were very attentive and friendly. One of the best things about the sushi not being expensive is the opportunity to order a variety of things, eat enough to feel full and not worry so much about the bill. The plates were served individually,  with the exception of the starters that came at the same time, and placed in the middle of the table. Rolls were served whole and sliced into six, so good for sharing, plus you know that the food hasn’t been sitting around as it is made to order. Another benefit of this is that the sushi hasn’t been refrigerated; this makes the rice cold and gradually hardens it, ruining the texture.

My favourite dish was the nigiri that was two pieces each of tuna, prawn and salmon. So simple but highly satisfying and tasty. The flavours of the three are individual–salmon is softer, silky and fattier, tuna is meaty and umami while giving a little more bite, the prawn is less rich and a slightly sweet–the contrast of the three allows you to enjoy their unique flavours more than having a plate of just tuna. I shared one plate with my tall friend and ordered another for myself.

I got to try warm sake for the first time which was a really good accompaniment to the meal, plus if you are a fan they have a number of options to choose from. But I would say that I like having a beer or something a little more thirst-quenching and it perhaps isn’t wise to pair the two.

I really enjoyed my meal at Ring and I highly recommend it if you are looking for a high-quality meal where the staff care about what they are doing. If you aren’t a fan of sushi, they also have a number of cooked dishes too.

On The Plate: Rudy’s Neapolitan Pizza

Where:The beginning of Ancoats
Price: How can food this good cost so little?
Tastiness Factor: This is what Pizza Heaven tastes like
Return Custom: I try my very best

This review is long overdue. It is probably over a year ago now that I was searching for the best pizzas places in Manchester and I was not disappointed. There were two key results that kept making an appearance. One in Altrincham and another somewhat more accessible to the car-less. Rudy’s. I have since been a handful of times; my desire to go more frequently is dampened by the fact the you can’t book so if you want to go at a peak time, by which I mean any meal time, not just at the weekend, you will be waiting about 40 minutes for a table. Even for two people. Now if you plan well, you can go for an early dinner or put your name down at the door and have a couple of beers at the nearby bars. Or if it is sunny, buy your beverages from the shop and sit in the square. Is it worth it? Oh my God, yes!

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The key to Rudy’s is simplicity. Minimal decor, just enough so that you don’t feel totally like you are in an empty garage. A menu of a few key items: no starters, just pizza, drinks and a couple of extras like olives. Price-wise, the drinks are what you would expect, but for one of the best meals you can have in Manchester the pizza is a steal. Albeit, pizza being of a few basic and cheap ingredients, this comes in under the regular takeaway cost with about 125% more flavour and undeniable authenticity. This pizza is traditional, made with the very best of the ingredients. No stuffed crust or chips and gravy topping. The margherita (only £5.90 for a good meal-sized pizza) is my favourite. It’s pretty magical what they can do with cheese, tomato and flour.  I recommend sharing a side salad with someone for a bit of green and to have the bitter pepperiness of the rocket to contrast with sweet tomato sauce.

There is something very special about this food, there is love and pride in that dough and I can’t help but feel lucky to live near it. A lot of Manchester’s dining stars are places that fry or load or fuse things together. Hundreds of flavours in a single calorific dish is the going game. To find something so good and different is refreshing. Their food and the experience is wholesome. It’s the Church of Pizza where fresh ingredients are at the altar of worship.

If you are a celiac then this won’t be for you, but there are veggie/vegan concessions. The food is pretty kid-friendly, there is no separate menu but you can share pizza with them. Other than all of this, I’m not sure what else to say so I not going to over-elaborate on things because that isn’t their style. Only: Go to Rudy’s! Go in your jeans on a Sunday with your family. Go with your date on an evening. Share with your friends the best version of the food that everyone loves. And leave with a full tum and undamaged wallet.

On The Plate: Cabana

Where:The Corn Exchange
Price: Expensive for what it is, but won’t actually cost too much
Tastiness Factor: ★★★
Return Custom: Nah, I’m good thanks

Shopping for specific clothing items can be exhausting. Particularly when one has monetary, shapely and time constrictions. Sitting down to have a bite is a point of relief from this. A moment to chill, where you buy what takes your fancy and don’t have to worry whether or not it suits you, only maybe if it makes you look fat. Cabana is alright. Not as chill as I was looking for, the music was a bit loud for a quiet Wednesday afternoon and with this came a pressure that I should be having ‘fun’. I was having a nice time but it was Wednesday, not Friday, I’m here to eat rather than let loose.

I’m going to start with the drinks. With a ‘girly’ shopping trip comes a desire for cocktails. I blame Sex and the City and possibly some kind of feminist power derived from drinking a sweet but highly alcoholic drink from a small straw known as a ‘cocktail’. It was unimpressive size-wise, but very nice. Not really worth the 2 for 1 offer and certainly not a worthwhile purchase full price. I followed this with a pint of Brahma, it was nice and more reasonable. Plus I was able to then establish myself as the alpha/butch one at the dinner table between myself and lady friend.

There isn’t too much that I can say about the food. Partly because I ordered fairly simple things and also because there just wasn’t that much. I went for a ‘street food’ dish option of fried calamari. Quite nice, not the best I have ever had but perfectly enjoyable. It was light and crisp, with a sharp bit of lime. It came with a garnish of sad greasy leaves that I ate out of spite due to the disturbingly small portions. Speaking of which, I paired this dish with a side of sweet potato fries, quite nice, but there was a happy meal-sized portion of them. I paid £4 for these. I would have been more satisfied by folding a fiver into a crane, setting it on fire and watching it drift off in a murky pond. But no, I had about 3 fries instead. Potatoes don’t even cost anything! The coleslaw was of a better size and perhaps the most interesting of the offering, it had a slightly mustard hint. But there wasn’t anything to really eat it with, there not being many fries or leaves, so it was kind of rich on its own. The guac was lovely, good and fresh, and warm having been made recently with ripened avocado.

This is a hard one to really go at and drag the receipts on because it only cost about £23, considering I had two drinks that isn’t loads. But I was unsatisfied with the portions, which in turn attributes value to the food. I really am bitter about those sweet potato fries. And honestly it is pretty stingy for a chain to cut back in such a way. My friend had a ‘meal-sized’ dish and that was pretty scrawny-looking. The food was nice, the staff were friendly, but I wouldn’t go back. It was nothing special. There are better places. And I deserve them.