What sparks joy?

I read a review on TripAdvisor today and whilst the feedback was entirely honest in regards to the negatives, it also highlighted the things that were just excellent too but yet this was not the thing that stuck in my memory. Instead I will no doubt forget the pointers on dishes I want to try and be left recalling an anecdote about bad service. This got me thinking about why sometimes, it’s easy to focus on all that is challenging or controversial and not the simple things that make you happy.

I wrote a post not too long ago about the things in the food world that were grating on me at the time but I think it’s about time I did the opposite, so instead, here are some of my moments of joy, the standout dishes, the experiences I will never forget and will treasure forever.

At home

Egg in a cup: When I was a child, this was a bit of a treat but it’s something I still make now and consider to be one of my go-to comfort foods. I don’t really know the origin of this or if it’s something other people eat but my mom would make it for me by hard-boiling an egg and then mashing it up in a teacup with plenty of butter so that it was sunshine yellow, I would eat it from the cup with a teaspoon and then spread some on a piece of toast. These days it remains largely unchanged, the portion size is bigger so the teacup has gone and I use salted butter and a crack of pepper on the top but that’s about it Importantly, there has to be a couple of pieces of toast that are only lightly coloured and also buttered. Don’t even think about using fancy bread, it has to be slices from a plain white loaf to really do it justice. Best enjoyed with a cup of and whilst ignoring the nutritional content.

Guacamole: This should never come from a tub, in our house it’s always freshly made and applied liberally to whatever is coming out of the pan.  Apparently my guacamole is pretty good but in all honesty it’s not that traditional, I don’t use coriander (Yuk) onion or tomatoes. My version is pretty much just avocado, chilli, lime and raw garlic plus plenty of salt and pepper because that’s just what I like to eat.

Cheese and crisp sandwiches: A rarity as bread and crisps don’t really make an appearance in our house so this is something I tend to raid my parents’ house for. There is only one way in which this is done, two slices from a white thick cut loaf, generous amount of butter, sliced mature cheddar (has to be sliced and not grated so you can taste the salty bits) and a bag of cheese and onion Walkers crisps. The best bit is when the crushed up crisps fall out of the sandwich and you get to mop them up at the end.

Cherries: I can think of no form in which cherries taste bad, I used to buy the tins of cherry pie filling and just take the lid off the can and eat it with a spoon. A bag of fresh cherries will last minutes in our house. Ice cream, cakes, sauce with a bit of duck, it doesn’t matter what it is if there are cherries in it you had better protect your plate from my wandering spoon.

Proper pasta: I often think I was born in the wrong country, my ability to eat pasta in great volume is quite extraordinary yet if I eat just one potato and will I need to go for a lie down- not vey British really. Making pasta at home is a uniquely satisfying experience and not that hard really. We have a bunch of fancy gadgets in our house (and at one point owned 3 pasta machines) but I’ve done it with just a rolling pin and knife too. I’ve attempted an egg yolk ravioli that wasn’t terrible but mostly stick with linguine, I should probably broader my range a little by now. For those days when dinner needs to be ready in a few minutes we do however revert to the dried stuff- Tesco’s finest is our normal choice to keep in the cupboards but I suspect there might be some alternatives worth trying

Cooking from scratch: OK this is a bit generic really but with a few exceptions (dried pasta, sausages, breakfast breads being the main things I can think of) we cook all of our meals from scratch. It doesn’t take any longer and my refusal to own a microwave means we avoid eating junk. Look in our fridge and freezer and its pretty much just ingredients (and a load of condiments for cheese) it’s also economical, have a look at ‘Cooking on a Bootstrap’ for some money saving ideas

Little treats

Just a list of things I find myself daydreaming about snacking on, most of these are ‘go out and find it’ items rather than things I eat at home, some of them form my emergency snacks for long train journeys or those ‘work through lunch’ meetings

  • Wham bars
  • An egg custard or even better, the lesser spotted Pastel de Nata
  • A Granny Smith apple
  • Blue and pink bottle bubblegum sweets
  • Banana and Cinnamon porridge from Leon
  • Any of the Bao Buns from Tiger Bites Pig
  • The Cacao Mint protein balls from Bounce (Boots Shapers mint nougat bars are my alternative if I can’t find these)
  • A boiled egg, not the most popular snack but it’s not unusual for me to be carrying one on my person
  • Cottage cheese on crispbreads
  • Peanut butter spread onto celery sticks
  • Millionaire’s shortbread
  • Houmous (added bonus for carrots too)
  • Raw peppers (I keep a pack in the fridge at work)
  • Honey Roast Peanuts- I can’t buy these anymore as I don’t have the self-control to not eat the whole bag in one go
  • Padron Peppers
  • Chicken Fried rice, chips and curry sauce from the chip shop


Birmingham’s Best

I was going to write a ‘Best dishes I’ve ever eaten’ list but that’s a post in its own right really, needless to say it will hard to whittle it down and I need to have a good think about it. So instead, we get a rare focus on my hometown instead. There are plenty of people who blog about Birmingham, it’s their thing and to be honest I wander about too much to ever be able to dedicate enough time to writing solely about, but in the spirit of not forgetting where I come from, here are a few notes on some of the places I most enjoy.

Laghi’s Deli: See above, I really like pasta! To me this is a ‘proper’ Italian and the trick is certainly to order from the specials menu and chat to the staff about what is available that day. I’ve never had a bad meal here and it’s normally the first place I suggest to someone who wants to eat out in Birmingham

The Indian Brewery: Their Chilli Fish Fat Naan is something I keep going back for, they do plenty of other tasty bites but whenever we visit this is always my first choice, Top quality cooking and nice and affordable too

40st Pauls: Yes there are other bars that serve gin but this is exceptional. Even if we just go for one or two drinks it always feels like a treat. The staff know their stuff and the atmosphere makes for a leisurely drinking environment. They are winning awards for a reason. There isn’t much point going anywhere else if you are a gin fan

Original Patty Men: Of all the burger places in the city this one does the best patty and is the ‘meatiest’ of them all.  Their range isn’t huge but the addition of Wing Wednesday’s makes up for it. Sometimes simple is best and O.P.M does a few things exceptionally well

Don Diego: This is a little place in a relatively quiet corner of Edgbaston but we fell in love with the staff and their approach to things. It’s nothing revolutionary but they do good quality Spanish food with friendly service. I long to see them grow and get a bit more recognition.

Faculty Coffee: I don’t drink a lot of coffee but always have one with me for a train journey, this is pretty much the only place I go to where I know I will always be happy with my drink. I’m not a coffee snob but I am sure that if you were, this would be the place you would want to hang out in

Bodega: On those ‘I don’t know what I want to eat’ nights Bodega is always a good choice, it is such an institution in Birmingham that I feel like I’ve almost grown up with it. This is my ‘cheer-up’ place to eat, my ‘emergency dinner’ place to eat and often just my ‘God, I love nachos’ place to eat. For a while I tried to eat my way through the whole menu but more recently I tend to favour the old classics. Their sweet potato fries, small bites and burritos are always good. Plus the cocktails are pretty good too. Instils a ‘feels like home’ kind of feeling whilst simultaneously assaulting you with exciting things which is pretty special.

Rico Libre: One of Birmingham’s secret gems (although it once had some top TripAdvisor ratings) we are due to pay another visit pretty soon. A real mix up of a place I’ve always loved the contrast between beautifully cooked duck or soft shell crab and Nirvana posters on the ceiling. Unconventional and uncompromising this is the sort of place where you come for a meal and then find yourself leaving at closing time wondering how you managed to eat so much. It’s BYOB too which means it can also be quite economical.


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