Newsflash for those who can’t be arsed to read all the pretty words below: we’re stumbling through a TV appearance on the James Martin’s Saturday Morning show tomorrow on ITV. You’ll gasp, wince and flutter as we cock up a salad and flirt outrageously with a man we’d both happily chuck each other under the bus for. Anyway.
Good evening all, your Fearless Leader James here. Apologies for the lack of posts in the last couple of weeks, but in my defence, we’ve been super busy: recording stuff for telly, writing the new planner and of course, touching our faces as much as possible in this time of coronavirus. Not a recipe post today but rather one where I want to relay my thoughts, and not just to pilfer those eighty packets of pasta you’ve squirrelled away in your knickers. Tuna bake anyone? Oh you’re nasty.
Someone sent me a message on Facebook asking how I am coping with all the worrying news and scary stats in the media, as someone with previously terrible health anxiety. To give you an idea of what living with health anxiety is like – every headache is a brain tumour. Every shake of the hands is Parkinsons. Stubbing a toe isn’t just an excuse to swear like a sailor but rather a thrilling two day adventure of wondering whether it’ll form a clot in my blood that will then speed its way to my brain stem to sizzle gently and turn me into stupefied mush. It’s not fun. At the worst, I spent more time in an MRI scanner than my own bed – it’s a bad job when the radiologist has to tell you to stop wanking because you’ve forgotten where you are. Apparently it was making the images blurry and they’d never be able to spot the brain-eating amoeba sunbathing on my meninges if I kept on.
Luckily (not least because I was racking up quite the considerable bill at Spire Healthcare) my health anxiety seemed to disappear a couple of years ago. I can’t quite tell you how I did it other than to offer the incredibly blasé ‘I just stopped worrying’, but that’s all I can really say. I distracted myself with pretty things and forced myself to do all the ‘trigger’ activities that I was putting off in case my heart stopped. Said before – busy hands distract a busy mind. So, aside from little wobbles of angst when I remember my mother fed me entirely on cheap Netto beefburgers as a kid (CJD) and I grew up in the combined fug of 40 Lambert & Butler (lung cancer), a roaring coal fire and surrounded by pesticide-soaked fields (emphysema), I’m fine.
So, in answer to the original question: how do I feel? I’m honestly quite laid back about the whole thing. I’m not really an at-risk category, years of sleeping with Paul and pushing his drool off my face in the morning has numbed me to bodily secretions and well, if it is only as bad as the flu for most, it’ll be unpleasant, but doable. If not, something has to kill me, and if it isn’t my current rollercoaster of injudicious living, than why not some fancy pathogens?
However, if I’m absolutely and utterly honest, the health anxiety – though a constant electrical hum – isn’t the issue, but isolation isn’t great. I’m a surprisingly private person for someone who’ll cheerfully describe the last forty knobs he’s seen, and more than happy in my own company, but there’s something about being told you can’t socialise that puts the brakes on things. I’m getting lonely. Paul works in the NHS and so he’s away to work all days which makes for a long day at home for me. I like to chat – people who know me will testify to my ability to fill five seconds of inky silence with ten seconds of burble – and although we can pick up the phone or use video conference, there’s a lot to be said for a face to face chat where you can see people’s reactions and wince as they spray spittle on your corneas. Now, I’m lucky: I have a good circle of close friends, a strong family and a husband who knows when to shut his mouth, rub my feet and make me laugh, but there’s plenty of others out there who don’t have that. If that’s you, see the stuff I post below.
It doesn’t help that it’s my birthday at the weekend, and I’ve finally reached a point where I have to move into the next bracket on the age demographic form, 35-49. I’m not one for worrying about age – from the moment your sperm meets your egg you join the queue for death (nicked that from Private Eye, because I fucking love it) – but I’d have loved to be able to go out and get hammered and celebrate it. Similarly, we’ve had to cancel Berlin (a weekend of filth that I was so, so looking forward to) and our 10-year-anniversary holiday to Disney. Yep, in the grand scheme of things it’s fuck all and I know it’s indulgent to be sad about these things (but sadnesses and joys are individual, not homogenous across mankind), but you know when you are really, really excited for something and the rug gets pulled away? That. Still. Come on, James. There’s people dying in the streets, I know.
Anyway, shush, no navel-gazing, I’ll crack on, and I’ll be reet, but it’s important to be honest about stuff like this at times of crisis, no?
Hell, if you found all that mush hard to swallow, here’s a video version:
I know, you’ve got chills. Who knew I spoke so posh?
One thing that does stand out like a shit in a doorway right now is how unbelievably stupid and selfish the tiny minority can be. At the time of writing we’re in a soft lockdown where people have been told they have to stay in their homes and only go out if absolutely necessary. Going to the shops for a full shop is one thing, but going to have a browse around Lidl with your bingo buddies is fucking moronic. We are lucky here at Chubby Towers: my keen eye for a bargain and our staggering obesity means that we had a well-stocked shed and two full freezers before this all kicked off, so we aren’t fretting about running out of food. If that does happen, I fully intend to pop one of Paul’s bingo wings over his gaping maw when he sleeps and then start eating him as winter sets in. That should see me through to about 2034, though I imagine I’ll tire of the taste of Trex and Cerutti 1881 long before then. On the rare occasion that I’ve gone to the shops for essentials I’ve seen the same sights, as indeed we all have, of people greedily filling their trolleys with shite that’ll end up in the rubbish bin when it doesn’t get consumed. Don’t be those people. If you need to stock up then by all means do, but just remember that there are people working tireless, thankless hours who’ll get to the supermarket and have fuck all to reward themselves with. Also, if you’re dealing with someone who is there to help you – be bloody decent and appreciative. Not just checkout staff, but the folks cleaning the store. Driving your buses. Bringing your delivery and handling your post. Bin-men. The police. Call-centre staff on the phone, every last person at the NHS. These people are as scared as we are and they’re dealing with that and trying to help you, and honestly, if I had my way, the second someone spoke out of turn to anyone in a position to help, I’d have their heads staved in and them zipped thrashing into a bodybag before you could say ‘reasonable cause’.
That’s enough negativity, though. One excellent thing to come out of this enforced isolation and distancing is the way the majority of folk have shown their absolute decency. People providing classes for free, parents creating teaching plans for the kids, Pornhub offering free online filth to all those stuck at home with nothing to look at other than the haggard faces of their brow-beaten partners. Honestly, I’m going to have a right arm like a sausage skin full of basketballs if this lockdown continues. It really cheers me to see people setting up community funds and volunteer groups to help the elderly and the infirm. I’ve been over to slip a ‘we will go get your shopping’ note through our elderly neighbour’s door – but only the one we like, mind you. We shouldn’t have to plug the gaps in society, but it’s not a bad thing that we’re willing to do so. Doubtless that we’re all about to see the biggest storm the country has had to weather in decades, but we’ll get through by helping each other and not being dicks. We always do.
To do our bit, as much as we can, we’re ramping up our social media output, including yours truly trying to do a daily video of nonsense. Not saying it’s entertaining, because modesty prevents me, but if you’re stuck for ideas:
https://amzn.to/39mfw0Y – our cookbook – at the time of writing – is currently £4.99 on Kindle and £9.99 delivered – full of stories, excellent recipes and more importantly, us – it’s a cookbook like no other, we promise you
PEOPLE OF THE NORTH EAST! We’re doing a book-signing TOMORROW (Saturday 7 March) at NOON at the Waterstones in Newcastle! Please come along and bring your books with you (or you can buy one there) – we’d love to see you!
Chernobyl soup: it cooks itself! No, stop it, we won’t have any jokes about Chernobyl in here, this is a tasteful blog. However let me tell you this: the soup looks like something you’d find in a layby nappy, hurriedly thrown from a moving car by some frazzled parents, but it tastes bloody good. If you’re looking for something very quick, cheap and easy, then nip over and I’ll sort you out, and we can have the soup after. It’s a simple enough combination of stock, veg and sausage with paprika. It uses an Instant Pot but fret not – you can make it on the hob just as easy.
Why are we calling it Chernobyl soup anyway? Because it was part of the meal we had at the Chernobyl Power Plant Workers’ Canteen, and so, with the confident ease of someone who has played the up-a-bit-down-a-bit-push game all too often, let’s segue straight to part two of our Ukraine holiday report. Look! A fancy banner approaches – click it to whisk straight to the recipe – and this is a VERY long entry, so I won’t even hold it against you.
Chernobyl, then. Our holiday package came with a twelve hour tour, which at 5.30am in the morning, pulling on sodden Dr Martens and wishing for death, felt like an awfully long time to stand around looking at dusty, toxic relics from a bygone era – we can do that easily enough by Skypeing Paul’s mother, and she’s only slightly less radioactive. We were up early as we had to be at a random hotel by 7am and we had no idea of the Metro schedule. After spending forty minutes feeling each individual drop of water hit me from the shower, we bustled out, asking the hotel concierge to call us a taxi. He gave us an earnest smile, coughed into his beard and pushed us outside to wait. Perhaps we were cluttering up the lobby or detracting from the entrance to the ‘Gentleman’s Club’, I don’t know. Anyway, we waited for a while until what would turn out to be a recurring theme of this holiday turned up: a car that looked like it was put together by my nephew in a fever dream. Rusted? I could see the petrol flowing through the door. No way were we getting in that, so the next ten minutes were spent stealthily hiding from both the very angry looking taxi driver and the concierge, who seemed bemused that we had disappeared into fat air. We stayed around the corner until the taxi driver drove off in a cloud of toxic blue smoke and the concierge went back to extracting new flavours of phlegm from his lungs. Paul called an Uber Exec in a fit of excitement and thankfully, a car that hadn’t been witness to seventy years of history rolled in, accompanied by yet another beautiful Ukrainian man whose name I’d never learn but whose eyes I’d always remember.
Honestly, long term readers of this blog will know that I have a real thing for taxi drivers – I think it’s simply any lust that allows me to sit down and rest my legs, to be honest – but it’s getting to a point where Paul’s having to pop a meter on and hang a Magic Tree off his knob if he wants to get his leg over.
The driver was cold and efficient and dropped us where we needed to be with a grunt. We gave him a tip of 5, 667,344,667 Ukrainian hryvnia (about £2.10) and sent him on his way. There were several white minibuses all boarding tour groups and of course, the anxiety of having to get on the right bus was overwhelming. Imagine my distress if I’d hopped on the wrong bus only to be taken to a gulag and passed around like life-raft chocolate. After I’d double-checked that this wasn’t happening, and hidden my disappointment from Paul, we climbed aboard. There’s always a worry about shared tour groups that you’re going to get onto a bus and find yourself sandwiched between folks who want to talk to you about Jesus and others who snack with their mouths wide open. Luckily – for the most part, ssh – this was a decent group – and once our tour guide (Cynthia, the doll beloved by Angelica from The Rugrats, electrified, made human and given an action-jackson gilet) jumped on, we were away.
She explained a few things: we were to buy snacks en-route because, obviously, nowhere to buy them in the Exclusion Zone. We had to try for a tom-tit at the petrol station because you really don’t want to be flaring your bumhole in the wild open air (she phrased it better, admittedly) and the toilet facilities were ropey. Don’t pick anything up. Don’t eat the berries. Buy some wet-wipes for your hands and dog treats for all the wild dogs that have set up home. We then had to sign a very official looking document (well sort of – the Ukrainian flag still had ‘shutterstock’ printed across it where they’d lifted it from google images, but top marks for theatre) to say we understood the risks of entering the Exclusion Zone and that we would be subject to punishment if we broke any of the rules. One of those rules? Don’t enter any abandoned structure. Just remember that. After twenty minutes, we pulled into the petrol station. I wish I could tell you the name because it was hilarious but I’d get wrong. So I can’t.
Whilst Paul busied himself trying to work out the coffee machine I took the role of class swot and went for a shite, bought my snacks and wet-wipes and then went outside to stand by the bus. Well no, I wanted to smoke, and as nonchalant as the Ukraine seemed to be about health and safety, I didn’t fancy sparking up in a petrol station. Oh and I know I shouldn’t smoke, but something has to take the bitterness of my words away. Luckily, my COPD-Club of One became three with the addition of two other Northerners, Vicky and Natalie. It took me a while to understand they were from the UK because with their strangled vowels and hissing sibilants I’d just assumed they were local engineers here to fix the bus. We bonded immediately over the sight of a dog and Paul’s ashen face at trying to drink a takeaway coffee consisting entirely of milk foam and cherry syrup, and then we were on our way. It was a good hour drive and I could tell Paul was itching to chat excitedly, so I shut my eyes and listened to my Billie Eilish tapes.
I can’t get enough of her, by the way. Imagine being eighteen and having a Bond theme out? The only thing I was responsible for at eighteen was an especially virulent outbreak for gonorrhoea. Well, it was the noughties after all.
An hour or two passed with very little to look at outside of the window save for the oncoming traffic, which the bus driver seemed to be taking a personal affront against given he was driving on both sides of the road at once. After twenty minutes of wincing, I nodded off, only for Paul to shake me from my slumber when we reached the first control point, where we told not to take pictures under any circumstances. There were a few burly mean-looking blokes hanging around so I’d cracked the emergency exit and slithered off like Tooms before our guide had finished telling everyone to behave. Our passports were checked, some tat was bought (I bought a gas mask, for reasons, not realising it was to fit a child – I look like one of those videos on Youtube where people put elastic bands around a watermelon when I wear it) and we were cleared to go exploring.
I should say at this point: we were given little Geiger counters to clip on, but at no time are you really in any major danger as long as you’re sensible. I did start clicking like the girl from The Grudge at one point but that was deliberate to shit Paul up.
This video, from the recent Chernobyl docudrama, explains what happened – and honestly if you’ve got ten minutes, watch it – amazing acting and you’ll never feel more like you could run a nuclear powerplant. Alternatively, cut to the ten minute mark, absolutely terrifying:
Now, since the reactor went boom, there were two exclusion zones set up – one 10km around the plant and another 30km. Both are safe for a day as long as you’re not snorting lines of dust, but you do have to be careful. You can’t explore yourself and must stay with a tour guide. Our tour started in a little village in the 30km zone, with us all tramping off the bus to walk around. Of course, it is eerie – a whole village lost to the forest – and we took some shots, walked around respectfully and went back to the bus. That was just a taster. Someone on the bus asked whether or not the dogs you see roaming around were the same dogs from thirty years ago and we all had to politely ball our fists in our mouth to stop laughing. Bless her, though I do like the idea of an irradiated Cujo wandering around looking for some glowing Bonio. That was a whistle-stop tour and the bus drove us to the next destination: the plant itself.
Perhaps you might not think it interesting to spend an hour looking at a power-plant, but in all honesty, the tour was captivating – we stood just outside the Containment Chamber which houses the incredibly radioactive remains of Reactor 4 and it’s mind-blowingly huge – an incredible piece of engineering when you consider it’s the largest man-made moveable object in the world. After Paul. Our tour guide showed us pictures of how it used to look and how it looked after the explosion and usually I zone out at stuff like that but she was terrific – and standing in front of something so destructive was genuinely terrifying. Brrr.
We drove on, with the next stop being Pripyat, the town built for the families of the workers of the powerplant. 50,000 people lived here in what looked to be a gorgeous town – then in the two days following the explosion, those who didn’t die were evacuated. This number rose as the Exclusion Zone grew to over 300,000. The bus turned a corner and we were on the Bridge of Death, where residents of the town gathered to watch the fire in the distance, all of them not knowing that they were watching their lives burn out in front of them. Everyone on the bridge died within days, captivated by the electric blue smoke pushed out by the reactor burning. The bus didn’t stop, which was entirely the right decision, and we parked up in the centre.
Our tour guide made a very stern face and told us we weren’t, by law, allowed to explore the buildings – partly out of respect, partly out of the fact they are unsafe structures, partly because they’re radioactive. If we were seen by the police who patrol the area we would be tossed back out with a flea in our ear. So, very clearly, if she saw us exploring inside the buildings, the tour would stop. Lucky, then, that she followed up this strict message by saying she would stay outside and do her paperwork, and if we wandered off…
So we explored five main points: the swimming pool, the school, a block of high rise apartments, the fairground and a nursery. I won’t go into all of them bar to tell you the common theme – imagine if someone pressed pause on an entire city. Everyone had to leave everything behind, soaked in radiation, and despite promises about returning, never could. You’re walking through a ghost city and it’s one of the must vaguely unsettling feelings I’ve ever felt. For example, in the high-rise buildings, you can walk up all twenty floors (and we did, with Paul gasping the entire way) and walk into people’s flats to see snapshots of their lives left to the dust: board games halfway played, pots left on the cooker, beds half-made and photos of loved ones cracked and fallen. It’s safe – so far as walking around buildings that haven’t been maintained for thirty years can be – but it’s absolutely haunting. When I’m uneasy or anxious I get an ache at the bottom of my back like someone is pressing on my spine and that feeling never left me. The faint taste of metal was a distraction though.
There’s so many photos out there of the various places you can visit so I won’t put my own up here, but have a look at our Instagram shots for a selection:
The floor full of children’s gas-masks was what got me though – tears actually welled up in my eyes when I realised that I shouldn’t have paid £20 for one from the gift shop and instead, just lifted one from here. Quick going over with a wet-wipe, job done.
One thing slightly irritated me – in quite a few places, you could tell things had been set up to make it ‘creepy’ – dolls with gas-masks on, faces half-buried in the soil. Chernobyl is dark tourism in its purist form – you don’t need to make a spectacle of it. Says the two lads who paid to tour it. That’s a fine looking high horse, fella.
We spent about two hours touring Pripyat and then it was back to the power-plant where we would join the current workers on site for lunch. We had another radiation check before going in – climb inside a little scanner, press your hands and wait for the beep – and then took a place in the queue (after I managed to fall up the stairs in my haste to get fed – they probably thought the reactor was having another wobbly when they felt the tables shake). We were warned that the ladies serving were miserable and christ, were they right – I’ve never been served lunch with such malice. I wanted to ask if I could swap my rye bread for a brown bun but it wouldn’t have surprised me if the bewhiskered babushka had pulled me over the counter and held me face down in the soup until my legs stopped kicking.
Lunch wasn’t bad mind – a little salad which I left because I’m not vegetarian, a soup which looked like someone had already digested it for me but tasted wonderful (see recipe below), a breaded (I think) piece of pork (I think) served on sticky rice (I think) and a lovely little muffin that I keep under my tongue even now so I can have a few more stabs at chewing it. This sounds like I’m being mean for the sake of it, and I am being facetious, certainly, but it honestly wasn’t bad at all. I made the mistake of scooping some mustard up off and putting it in my soup, not realising that this wasn’t mustard but something that must have been scrapped off the side of the blown reactor. Hot? I didn’t want to lose face, though ironically I did lose face as it burnt through my cheek. We made our way back to the bus, stopping (the group) to pet all the dogs milling around the plant and stopping (me) to smoke with all the workers in the vain hope I’d be squirrelled away as the office entertainment.
Next stop was something I hadn’t expected – a stop at the DUGA radar installation and the accompanying secret Soviet base. I adore stuff like this – incredible feats of engineering built for menace. I tried to take a photo to try and encapsulate the sheer size and freakery of this place and failed – it’s 500ft tall and half a mile long of tarnished metal, long-silent wires and rusting joints. At some points, you can stand under it and look up and it is all you can see. I’ve mentioned my phobia of dams before – part of that phobia is that dams look so unnatural and man-made set in usually beautiful countryside. This was the same with the DUGA station – so unnatural, so weird. That phobia of large structures is called megalophobia and I can’t deny that as excited as I was to see it, that little knot of anxiety was back in my spine. You can hear it creaking in the wind which is unsettling enough, and knowing it needs to come down soon but has to be taken apart by hand due to the radiation…nope. It was used to listen out for ballistic missile launches – I can’t help but think if Comrade Paul Anderson had his hands on it, he’d be using it to check my WhatsApp. Brrr.
The rest of the tour involved lots of little stops at various points – the working town where the current workers live (had to check we hadn’t turned off and ended up in Gateshead for a hot second), the memorial to the fallen, the little robots they attempted to use to shift the burning, highly radioactive graphite off the roof. The radiation was so intense that the robots only worked for moments before cutting out – they had to send humans up onto the roof to do what the robots couldn’t. Think on that for a second: so radioactive it fries a robot, so they sent these ‘bio-robots’ onto the roof instead. One minute to chuck as much rubble over the side as you can, and that’s you done, never to serve again. Fall over onto the graphite and you’re dead. Brush against it, and you’re dying. The thought of having to do something so intense made my spine hurt again: you’re talking to the man who fell up the stairs on his way to get soup, remember.
Though I have a confession: throughout the tour the guide kept telling us we would get a chance to meet the Roberts who helped with the clean-up exercise. I thought it was going to be a meet and greet of two blokes called Robert and spent a while on Wikipedia trying to work out who she could mean. Nope. Robots. I was a trifle disappointed.
Throughout the tour we spoke with the various folks on the bus with us – some were more engaging than others – and we made friends with the previously mentioned Natalie and Vicky, and then later Reiss and Sharlette (which made for an awkward moment when they both said that’s not how you spell my name when I was trying to find them on Facebook), a lovely couple who had come along on the same flight, with the same company, having watched the same documentary as us. I’ll circle back to these lovely four in the next blog entry but haven’t we come a long way since Paul and I pretended to be Armenian so that we didn’t have to make small-talk on a previous tour?
And that’s it – the driver got us all back on board, we cleared the checkpoint and then he cranked up the heating so we all fell asleep. I woke myself up with a fart so noxious (and I pray, silent) you’d be forgiven for thinking I was smuggling rubble back with me. It’s OK, I shut my eyes and went back to sleep with the lullaby of dry-heaving behind me to whoosh me to sleep.
So: would I recommend it? Absolutely. I knew Paul would enjoy it because he’s always been a fan of desolation, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. Your experience will depend entirely on the skill of your tour guide – ours was incredible, the right balance of humour, knowledge and pathos – and we tipped her well. The bus – awash with jokes and jibes about radiation on the way there – was silent coming back. They played a video of what the town was like on the drive back, which was an especially timely touch. It’s fascinating to see an entire town held in a time bubble and utterly incomprehensible to realise what an evacuation on that scale would actually mean. It was almost so much worse, too – had the core hit the water pooled underneath the reactor, almost all of Europe would have been rendered uninhabitable by the subsequent nuclear explosion.
As a footnote: the official Soviet death-count for Chernobyl, as of today: 31. Official studies actually put the numbers up near 90,000.
And there’s me grumbling about my weak shower.
To the Chernobyl soup, then. If you have an Instant Pot this is truly the work of minutes, but if not, fear not: you can make it on the hob just as easy. This makes enough for four servings of Chernobyl soup, which I really ought to call veg and sausage soup, but hell. To the recipe!
Yeah I should have cleaned that bowl first. But I was too busy playing with my gas-mask.
Just a flash blog post – just to let you know that our cookbook is available for only £9.99 from Amazon! If you’ve been sitting on the fence or if you want to sort something for Mother’s Day, birthdays and all that jazz – why not treat yourself?! We’ll promise it’ll be totally worth it! We’ve got over 1,900 5* ratings so you know it’s all the good stuff. Just click the image below to be transported right there!
…and as always, a massive thanks from us to all of you – whether you’re a reader of the blog, bought the book or considering it – we couldn’t do it without you!
Howdo! Told you we’d be back with a bang, and this cheesy chicken kiev is something to behold. Might look a bit like a diseased foof but hey. We’ve been having a chitter-chatter amongst our various holidays about whether or not we should be aiming for low-syn / no-syn dinners in light of the blossoming success of the book and blog and you know what, nope: we are going to continue exactly as we are! Our food has always been about spending a few points / syns / calories and enjoying it – so here we go! A chicken kiev recipe and a load of sass!
First, a bit of admin!
Our cookbook continues to soar and sell and we couldn’t be happier – remember you can pick it up in most major supermarkets and bookshops and there’s always Amazon if you get stuck – if you have been so kind as to buy it, please consider leaving us a review on Amazon – we want to get to 2,000! You don’t need to have bought it on Amazon to review it either!
Next, we’re down in Southampton filming something secret at the end of the month and there’s two book signings lined up – please do come along and get your book signed, we promise to be filthy!
Right – before we get to the recipe, a long holiday entry to endure! If you’re in a rush for the chicken kiev, click the banner and be whisked straight there!
Gosh, it’s been a while since I typed out a holiday entry (and I’m more than aware that I have Hamburg to finish, ssh) but in the spirit of efficiency, I’m going to barrel this one nice and fresh. I’m actually typing a good chunk of this out on the aeroplane home, trying desperately not to incur the wrath of the poor bloke sat between us who has been trying to complete a level on his motorbike game for the last hour or so. Oh Bohuslav, love, if you’re reading this over my shoulder, let me have a stab. Like so many of my men, you’re pulling out a fraction early. Anyway, let’s start with the detail.
See, Paul and I have been together almost thirteen years now, and Valentine’s Day is always a bloody nightmare – it falls six weeks after Christmas and four weeks after Paul’s birthday, and trying to come up with something unique and special is an absolute pain in the arse. Paul, however, has been ‘good’ (for good, read ‘endlessly forgiving of my indiscretions and nonsense’) to me this last year, and I wanted to get him something decent. It was only after finishing Sky Atlantic’s recent Chernobyl docudrama that I remembered he had always wanted to visit Chernobyl and so, after a cursory moment of trying to find a cheap deal, I had us booked onto a package with travelcenter.uk which included flights, hotel and a twelve hour tour for a very reasonable £360 or so. I presented him with the detail and he was over-the-moon – I was seeing his face light up in a way that no amount of low-level radiation could ever do. He explained that Chernobyl had always been on his bucket list and wasn’t I a brilliant husband for arranging it. Naturally, I accepted this high praise with full modesty and grace and elected not to tell him I’d only really booked it because I wanted my back doors smashed in by any of the number of muscly Adidas-clad sentient frowns that appeared on google when doing my research into the Ukraine. He didn’t need to know that bit.
With his Valentines present sorted, I eagerly awaited mine. I got nowt. Not even a card. I smiled through the tears, increasingly used as I am to the disparity of effort.
Now, let’s discuss the elephant in the room, and I don’t (for once) mean my bouncy beloved. We’ve been asked two questions on our social media channels which demand an answer, namely why would we choose to visit a country not exactly known for its gay rights and then, why visit Chernobyl? The first is a tricky one – we don’t normally go places where we aren’t welcome – and the Ukraine political situation is genuinely horrifying to us as gay men – but unlike countries like Jamaica (where we’d love to go, but would never be welcome), there’s only one Chernobyl – and to get there, unfortunately, you do need to go via Kiev. We choose our holidays sensitively but our hand was forced on this one, and I’ll circle back to this point a little later. As to why visit Chernobyl? Far easier. I married a massively polluting, noxious pile of slag – when do you ever get a chance to visit its twin? To the holiday, then.
Normally I spend ages waffling on about our trip to the airport, but this time, I’ll keep it short. As we weren’t flying to Magaluf, Bristol or Ibiza, we couldn’t fly from Newcastle, and so our journey necessitated flights from Manchester and a car journey. I was still ‘tired and emotional’ from a week of excess before so it was up to Paul – in his new black Smart car, no less – to drive us to Manchester. The arse-end of Storm Ciara made it an arresting car ride, with Paul barely needing to touch the accelerator, instead allowing us to be blown all the way there. Wouldn’t be the first time. I was a quiet, considerate passenger, keeping my shrieking and fitful crashing of phantom passenger-side brake pedals to a minimum. I’ll say this, though: Mancurians – you’re lovely, but you absolutely can’t drive. Here’s a clue: when you’re changing lanes, try flicking the indicators on. I appreciate it’ll mean you looking up from your Love Island repeats on ITV Player, but go on, give it a go. Four separate times I came within a whisker of cheating on Paul simply by virtue of having the Smart rammed so far into the back of someone’s car that I could have whispered ‘it only hurts for a bit’ into the driver’s ear. Arses.
We arrived at the fabulously appointed (cough) Holiday Inn Express at around 11pm and Paul immediately set about shaving his head with the clippers he had brought from home. Halfway through I hear the bzz-bzz-bzzz of a set of dying clippers and a plaintive mew from the bathroom. He had cut about a third of his hair before the clippers had run out of juice. That’s fine, get the charger, but wait no – Paul had left the charger at home on account that the clippers ‘looked fully charged’. I silkily enquired as to when he had acquired the impressive ability to ascertain electrical charge of an object just by glancing at it, and what this meant for the Terminator franchise going forward, but was met with a volley of indignant ranting. Faced with the horrific thought of cutting about the Ukraine with someone who’s head looked like a wet egg rolled disinterestedly in pubic hair, I leant him my Mach 3 and gave him a skinhead. To be fair, he looked pretty fit with it, but it then meant I couldn’t sort my own hair out – something that wouldn’t have been so critical if I hadn’t still been sporting a mohawk that my best mate had clumsily cut into my hair in an act of alcohol-soaked mischief. I can make a mohawk work when everything else on my face is neat and tidy, but for the remainder of the holiday I looked like I’d stumbled early out of rehab. Ah well.
We woke bright and wheezy the next morning and made our way to the airport, way ahead of schedule. For once, it was the right decision – the security halls at Manchester Airport were absolutely rammed thanks to couples disappearing off for romantic breaks. You couldn’t move for people making moony faces at their beloved or kissing in that ‘look everyone, we have sex’ way that is for everyone else’s benefit. My boots, coat and suitcase all raised alarms and I was selected for a grope, so can’t complain, though I was hoping (as it was Valentines) he might have given me his number after effectively giving me a handy in the search for illicit substances. As it was, no idea why my boots and suitcase set off the alarms – presumably fashion related – but my coat contained four separate lighters. I tried to style it out by saying I was a one-man-tribute to Cirque du Soleil but he was having none of it.
Flight was with Ryanair and I can’t fault it – Paul had forgotten his headphones and was looking to me to keep him entertained, and I genuinely hope he liked the sight of me face-down in Star Trek: Picard for the journey. He cheered himself up by ordering a coffee and setting away with the task of spilling the tubes of milk all over his legs, and then dozed on my shoulder. Can’t recall any particularly exciting turbulence.
Unusually for Ryanair, they landed us at an airport in the same country as our destination, although things were complicated by the lack of a metro straight to the city centre. I’d read about tourist taxi scams on the flight over and, now officially part of The Real Hustle team, I spent a good ten minutes handwaving and no-no-noing at all the offers of taxis that came over. Normally I’m not so fussy but these cars looked as though they’d been parked outside the reactor when it went kaboom, and I’m sorry, but I do like living. Luckily, Uber has made it to the Ukraine, and a driver was promptly dispatched.
And, oh my word. Fit? This bloke, with his name like an explosion at the Boggle factory, was stunning. Bright blue eyes that had seen, caused and relished in death, black hair I’d be picking from my teeth for weeks after. He spoke no English – and quite right too – and we all squeezed into his Honda Menace in a thick sea of sexual tension. He kept looking in his rear-view mirror, presumably to work out why my mouth was hanging open and spittle was pooling on my moobs, and it was all I could do not to reach over, open Paul’s door and tumble him out, then beg a long life with a man who would never show me intimacy. By the time we arrived at the hotel I’d learned the Ukranian for ‘I’m on PrEP mate, it’s fine’ and started arranging the tablecloths for our wedding, but he simply gave us a curt nod and was on his way, ready to break more hearts. Sigh. I blame Paul.
Our hotel – ‘Tourist Hotel Complex’ – looked fairly swish from the outside and we were checked in with lovely smiles and warm wishes. We had chosen a twin room in a fit of worry and panic and so were given a room on the ninth floor. My god. It was…basic. I’m not one for fancy hotel rooms, given we mainly just spend our time in there sleeping off booze or entertaining the locals, but this looked like a hostel you’d see a messy murder taking part in. No, that’s mean – imagine your nana’s spare room that she keeps for best. Lots of rickety pine, magic-eye wallpaper and fussy bits. The bathroom was tiny with the lavatory tucked neatly into a corner in such a way that to have a tom-tit meant folding your legs up like an accordian. You may remember, I’m 6ft 2″ tall and not that far off wide.
Worse though – the shower. The one thing I really do need is a powerful shower to blast away the snail-trails and harsh living, but this, this was dire. I had enough time between the drops of water hitting me to dry off and cut my toenails. I’ve never had a shower where I’ve had to move to stay wet. To add insult to injury, there was about two minutes of tepid water before it started sputtering and went cold. I was foaming, but mainly because there wasn’t enough water to get rid of the body-wash nestled in my chest hair. Harrumph.
Now, this is getting a trifle long, and for that I apologise. We will revisit this next week! But now, time for a chicken kiev! I know that is an incredibly obvious first choice for a Ukraine recipe but I can’t see that we’ve done one before – so let’s try and make a decent slimming chicken kiev! Let’s go!
Look, we're fat, we can't be arsed trying to make it look pretty. It's a baked chicken breast, we're not miracle workers. You can serve it with chips, salad or glitter from your bum. Up to you. The recipe makes enough for two kievs.
two large chicken breasts
50g of Philadelphia Garlic and Herb (4 syns)
25g of golden breadcrumbs (4.5 syns)
if you like it super garlicky, add a teaspoon of garlic paste (syn free)
I mean, can you take a guess here, poppet?
preheat the oven to 200 degrees and get yourself a good non-stick tray
cut a big fancy gash in the side of your chicken and stuff it with half of the Philadelphia (you're making two, remember) and smidge a bit of garlic in there if you're using it
fold the gash lips over themselves a bit
beat the egg and dip the chicken in
roll it around in the breadcrumbs
bake in the oven until cooked through
you COULD save syns and calories by using your own breadcrumbs from your healthy extra, but don't, just don't - this is as close to a proper kiev as you can get
you COULD also use Quark and garlic but for goodness sake, get a grip
If you want more recipes like this, buy our cookbook! You can order it now and it’ll be with you soon – click here! There’s also a Kindle version for immediate reading!
Amount Per Serving
% Daily Value
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Enjoy! More chicken recipes? Have a look at our huge chicken index right here!
Everyone! Our cookbook has finally launched – after what feels like months of writing, planning, photographing and plotting. it’s here! Launched on 2 January 2020 and already a best-seller, to the point where we exhausted Amazon’s stockpile many times over.
I just wanted to write a little bit about what this means to me. I know I speak for Paul too when I say this, but damn it, I’m the writer, these are my words. All of my life I have loved to write: I’ve kept (and keep) diaries, I rattle off short stories when I’m bored, I’ve kept this beast of a blog going for almost six years. I never, ever thought the blog would swell to become what it is today – a clumsily edited, lo-tech, no bells and whistles lumbering collection of nonsense tales and excellent food. There’s just the two of us, both with full time jobs, but we’ve kept this going because the social side of things has been endlessly brilliant. Then, last year, we were approached to make a cookbook and, after much consideration (we looked at Disney holidays, saw the prices and then agreed we must write a cookbook) set about pulling it together. I thought we might sell a thousand copies or so, mainly to my mam (who actually hasn’t bought a copy at all because she wants a free one, the tight mare), but nope. It has soared. The fact that it is published, out and we’re getting so many good reviews and positive comments absolutely melts my heart. I have achieved a genuine, concrete life goal and whatever happens next, I can turn around and say we’re published, best-selling authors – and it means the absolute fucking world to me.
So – seriously now – we might be about the knob jokes, coarse language and cooking – but you have made two very chubby cubs very, very happy indeed. Thank you!
Now – because there was such a colossal spike in sales last week, Amazon are struggling getting so many copies out in one go! We’ve literally depleted their stocks – and so a few of you may be getting an email saying there’s been a delay. WORRY NOT. Our publishers have sent Challenge Anneka down with her lorry and a whole load of new books and these will be hitting in the next few days. As soon as there’s new stock, the delays will be updated and books will be on the way. We had no idea there would be such a surge and this came out of the blue – so please, if this is you and you’ve been told a delay of a few weeks, panic not! Yours will be coming as soon as possible, promise! THANK YOU!
If you’re keen to buy it from Amazon, you can order it now and it’ll be with you soon – click here! There’s also a Kindle version for immediate reading!
If you are struggling with waiting, then please, fret not! You can also order from:
We know Sainsbury’s have them at the moment but they are flying off the shelves so be quick!
Comments from people will follow but we’re hearing good things about the fact they’re family friendly, easy meals and the book looks bloody gorgeous!
So: if you have the book, please do leave us a review, tell people about it, get things made and join in on our social media channels – @twochubbycubs on IG and Twitter and we’re all over Facebook! We really want to hear from you and we REALLY want some reviews!
That’s me for now. But one more time: thank you to each and every single person who reads this, recommends us, kindly leaves us comments and being part of this fucking amazing show in whatever way you have been. You’re amazing!
With love from James (the bearded, handsome, shaved head one with excellent clothes) and Paul (pictured)
Actifry Pigs in Blankets seems like such an obvious recipe that frankly I’m disgusted that Paul hasn’t come through for me and suggested this before. It’s stuff like this that really makes me question whether this marriage has legs. But then I remember that, to his credit, Paul has great legs – presumably because the lack of strain placed on them due to his marvellously sedentary lifestyle. Seriously, we’re one cold winter away from his arse actually bonding to the sofa.
Little heads-up – we are being paid by the good folks at Tefal for this post, but as ever, we will only tell you the truth. If a recipe turned out bobbins, we would say so: our integrity can’t be bought for less than five fingers. Figures. But this Actifry pigs in blankets recipe is possibly the easiest we’ve ever done, so there.
You know, though, if I may backtrack for a bit. Paul does get an awful amount of stick and mean barbs on here, and I just want to clarify for anyone reading who is concerned that the poor bugger is having a hard time of it. The thing is: he deserves everything he gets. Oh lord, I’m kidding, of course he doesn’t. It’s all done with the greatest affection, I promise you, and he gives as good as he gets, though normally only on my birthday these days. Forgive me some mawkish sentimentality: but when I think about the year we’ve just had – creating our cookbook, recording our podcasts (coming soon!), farting about in London in fancy publishers, mincing around Europe – it’s really been quite an adventure. Despite the fact I’ve woken up to his Think F.A.S.T sleeping face approximately 4,200 times since we met, I still look forward to getting into bed with him of a night-time, farting him away with my toxic bum and then wondering how easily I could convince a coroner that it was ‘for the many, not the few‘ if I held a pillow over his face until the light left his eyes.
To make it all the sweeter, we have a phenomenal 2020 planned. Aside from the release of a cookbook, a secret project and all sorts of exciting developments to run along side, we’re also resurrecting the Year of Holidays that we did a few years ago. We love to travel and thanks to the fact I never spaffed too indiscriminately in my early years, we aren’t saddled with baggage above and beyond our knock-off Calvin Klint suitcases. The blog is always at its best when I have something new to write about and so, next year, expect some high tales and frisky nonsense as we clatter about Europe and beyond. Long time readers may remember my honeymoon diaries from when we went to Disney ten years ago: well, it’s time to go back in May. We will still be pumping out recipes that you can enjoy, not endure (you’ll start hearing that a lot going forward, fair warning), but we’re going to mix a lot more adventure into the mix. Adventure eh? Yes! If you didn’t catch the bus – you won’t want to miss the boat!
Anyway. Before all of that, let’s enjoy the slide into Christmas – push out and it’ll hurt less, James.
Let’s get to the sponsored bit. Actifry have asked us to take part in their third spin class of the year, where you spin the wheel, choose a recipe from their (genuinely very good) app and make it for our “adoring” public. We were happy to oblige, and thankfully, the wheel finally landed on a recipe that was easy to adapt for our slimming audience. These Actifry pigs in blankets can be cooked without the glaze and if you swap out streaky bacon for strips of bacon medallions and chose syn free sausages, you could make them syn free. The glaze adds a few syns but listen: it’s Christmas. If you can’t push the boat out here, when can you? You’ve got all of next year to think about losing weight.
I’ll say this though. We’ve been using our Actifry for years, mainly for chips because: obesity, but it’s genuinely our favourite kitchen gadget we own. It does exactly what it is supposed to do, with minimal fuss. It doesn’t leave your kitchen stinking of fat and it’s easy to keep clean, given all but the base can go in the dishwasher. It’s like the antithesis of Paul. There’s plenty of cheaper alternatives out there but – and mind this is rare because we’re usually all about not needing to spend money to eat well – this is worth spending your money on, even if you get a smaller or older model. Buy cheap, buy twice, and plus I’ve seen the clip of some of the models you can get in B&M and it looks like someone’s parked a coke-ravaged R2D2 on your worktop. Nobody wants that, now do they?
Actifry pigs in blankets with a BBQ Jack Daniels glaze
Yield20pigs in blankets
Remember folks, you can make this syn free by swapping out the bacon, using syn free sausages and omitting the glaze. But you could also brush your teeth with the bog-brush and save on toothpaste: doesn't mean you should. Spend the syns and enjoy this!
Don't have an Actifry? Shame on you. But these can be done in the oven too, and we'll cover that for you!
twenty wee chipolatas (syn free if you pick the right ones, otherwise, syn accordingly)
twenty strips of streaky bacon - use bacon medallions if you absolutely must (syn accordingly if you use streaky bacon - 100g is 9 syns, and we barely used that)
For the glaze:
a shot (25ml) of Jack Daniels (we use the one with honey because we're fancy AF) (3 syns)
six tablespoons of BBQ sauce - we use Tesco's own brand because we're not fancy at all, despite what we said above, sorry) - (6 syns)
So for twenty pigs in blankets, made with the glaze, you're looking at just under two syns a pop, including the streaky bacon.
wrap each wee sausage in a rasher of bacon, or half a rasher if you've got big slices
if you're using an Actifry Genius like us, no need to remove the paddle
if you're using an older Actifry, remove the paddle
place them into your Actifry with the 'join' of the bacon face down
if you're using an Actifry Genius, set the cooking mode to '2' (breaded products) and the timer for ten minutes - selecting this mode means the paddle won't turn, which will keep your pigs in blankets together
for an older model, set yourself a wee timer for ten minutes
set everything away cooking, and in that ten minutes, whisk together your sauce and Jack Daniels
when the ten minutes is up, tip in your glaze and:
for the Genius, select cooking mode 1 and ten minutes, which will make the paddle turn and get everything coated and sticky
for the older models, carefully pop the paddle back in and set it away for ten minutes
serve to rapturous applause
These really are bloody lovely. The only reason we suggest not using the paddle straight off is if the sausages go tumbling about, they might lose their blankets!
Can do these in the oven too - on a roasting tray for ten minutes, then glaze the buggers and put them back in.
the Actifry app is absolutely worth downloading if you're stuck on recipes - there are tonnes on there, including our own!
take a look at Actifry's on Amazon - there's a model for every requirement these days - this'll open in a new window
Don't forget our cookbook!
All good book shops, including Amazon, Waterstones and WH Smith. Thanks to strong sales Amazon have dropped the price to £10, as have the others, and we heartily encourage you to buy it now!
If you click on that banner, you’ll be taken to the Amazon page where you’ll also be able to download a wee Kindle version with three recipes, to give you an idea of what is coming up.
How good is that? Want more Actifry ideas? Of course!
Looking for something more to do with your Actifry? Sure!
Curried cauliflower soup – and syn free to boot – perfect as the winter sets in and Christmas approaches. This is a dual purpose recipe: I wanted to find a soup recipe that took no effort at all AND used a vegetable that is cheap and abundant at the moment. Added bonus: it’ll make your arse so toxic that, should you be like me and have a husband who is constantly knocking on your nethers with Ole Blind Bob, you’ll be given a free pass. A free ass, if you will, though no-one’s ever thrown socks at my bottom. Pity. Anyway, the curried cauliflower soup will follow shortly, but first the usual balderdash.
One thing I haven’t mentioned on the blog lately is that I’ve been gallivanting quite a bit – a veritable blizzard of trips away and driving around the country snaffling a hundred service station sandwiches whilst owlishly ignoring my ‘Service Due’ spanner light on my car. One such trip took me to Birmingham to see Chernobyl Edition Paul who took me along to see Frisky & Mannish. Now, when someone recommends something to me, I’ll often nod and smile and die inside whilst I have to pretend to be interested in something awfully unfunny or just not up my street. If you ever meet me, you’ll see the exact ‘but I don’t care‘ face I pull the very second I ask you how you are and you reply with anything other than the most basic acknowledgement of the question. Honestly, it should be a crime to actually give a proper answer. In the North East we have this down to a fine art, which goes like this:
See? Didn’t even answer the question and then it’s off back down t’pit. Learn from that, people.
Anyway, it turned out his recommendation wasn’t duff at all, and after a few Youtube videos which actually made my insides ache we were booked and ready to go. Now, if you’ve never heard of them, they’re a musical comedy duo act who do shows which play on musical themes and mix pop parodies, jokes and some actual amazing singing. That’s a shit way of describing them, so let me simply encourage you to watch this:
It even won over my stone-hearted husband, who last laughed back in 2014, and even that was mainly acid-reflux.
Aside from spilling my beer as I sat down and creating a heart-stopping moment when Frisky came speeding out in massive heels and oh-so-almost slipped over, it was a genuinely fantastic show. You know how these things tend to go: there’s nearly always a ‘down bit’ where they try new material and not everything sticks. Not here: I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much at a live show, and I’m someone who ends up in paroxysms of laughter watching You’ve Been Framed. My benchmark isn’t high. I left that venue with my ribs aching like someone had spent four minutes slapping me about with a pair of fish slices to the key-change in Scared of the Dark by Steps. That’s a musical joke and you know it.
We were given a chance to meet them after and to their absolute credit, they remained entirely unfazed and positive even in light of being hugged by a giant sentient Sugar Puff and his glazed companion. I’d post the picture but I look like I’ve been awake for eight days and that’s not a treat for anyone. However, they were that bloody good that when I returned home I booked three more tickets to see them in Newcastle with Paul and someone who was sick of hearing me bang on about them. They loved it too, and it was great to see them playing to a much larger venue. Actually! Because I’m a narcissistic sod, I wanted to redo the picture I had taken from the other week and they were only happy to oblige:
I’m the one in the middle, in case you didn’t realise. Did I feel guilty about leaving Patrick and Paul outside in the pouring rain whilst I went full Annie Wilkes in the foyer? I did not. Worth it! They’re taking a break now but honestly, if you ever get a chance to see them, you absolutely must.
We also managed to squeeze in to see Jay Rayner on his Last Supper tour when we were both in Birmingham. I’m going to use that as a jumping off point for a fuller blog entry down the line but I’ll say two things now. Firstly, the man was an utter delight – hilarious, self-effacing and full of anecdotes you actually want to listen to. Which leads me to my next point: if you’re attending a show with a ‘question and answer’ element, don’t be that irritating raclure-de-bidet who thinks everyone in the room has come to hear your thoughts on the act as the show goes on. My word, she was bothersome – talking over everyone’s questions, guffawing in that ‘look at me look at me oh god won’t you look at me’ way at everything he said…the list could go on. I sure hope her heartbeat doesn’t.
Anyway, we’ll come back to Jay Rayner another time, but in the meantime, let’s do this curried cauliflower soup, shall we? I can’t pretend I’ve found a way of making curried cauliflower soup look exciting, but damn it’s syn free and delicious. What more do you want?
We're trying to spin our meals around whatever vegetables are currently in season here at Chubby Towers - plus, eating meat for every single meal is getting a bit tiresome on both the entrance and exit doors. What can you do with a cauliflower? Some people - we'll call them mental - pretend you can make steaks with them. You can't. You can no more make a steak with a cauliflower than you can make a lamppost with a giraffe. Get ahad of yerself, lass.
However, the good folks at Olive Magazine posted this recipe last year, and although we've adapted it ever so slightly for twochubbycubs and Slimming World, it didn't lose any flavour in our tinkering. We heartily recommend!
We've also included a tip to really speed things up if you're pushed for time, but honestly, there's very little to do here.
one large cauliflower - remove the outer leaves
few sprays of olive oil
one large white onion (we used the cannonball onions from Morrisons, but only because the name got me all a-frisk)
two teaspoons of garlic paste
one tablespoon of hot curry powder
one litre of vegetable stock (made from bouillon powder if you have it)
100g of fat-free Greek yoghurt
chop up your cauliflower into little cauliflowers - don't waste the stem either, chop it finely
save a few shapely florets aside
slice up your onion
in a nice big pan, gently sweat off your onion and cauliflower until nicely golden
add the garlic paste and curry powder and give everything a good stir and cook for a couple of minutes more
add the stock and allow to simmer gently for around 25 minutes, or until everything has softened up
if you like a thicker soup, simmer for a bit longer to take off some of the stock
allow to cool, add the yoghurt and then blend together with a stick blender
taste and if it needs salt, add it and reblend
For the top, I sliced the cauliflower florets nice and thickly and then in another small pan, fried them off in Worcestershire sauce - you want them to have a bit of a bite, but the Worcestershire sauce adds a lovely flavour - totally unnecessary though! I also added a bit of chilli oil because I'm not content unless my arse is melting like a summer ice-cream
want to speed this up - you can buy already chopped cauliflower in Tesco sold as 'cauliflower rice' - combine with a pot of chopped onions and you could have this done in no time at all
want more fabulous recipes of this scale and complexity - of course you do, you're wonderful - click away!
Click here to preorder our new cookbook! Now £10!
This freezes well, I should have said – and what better way to say I want a divorce than present your partner with some freezer-burn soaked curried cauliflower soup? I ask you. You want some more ideas for soup? We got you – here’s all our syn free soups:
‘ey up duck! Listen, I’m not going to lie – we’ve had quite the hectic month including a weekend surrounded by about five hundred equally chunky, hairy and mostly nude gay men. You can forgive us for taking our eyes off the ball, though to be fair said ball was normally clattering off my chin alongside its brother. Oh stop.
Tonight’s recipe is for a peppercorn sauce to go with steak – it’s simple, but damn is it tasty. If you want to go straight to the recipe for peppercorn sauce, we understand – just click the big button below and you’ll be whisked right there. You snooty moo. Everyone else, we have part two of our recentish trip to Hamburg. We love feedback on our holiday reports, do send us a message!
You may or may not recall from the last entry that we’re combining two trips to Hamburg in one sexy trip report here – so forgive the back and forth of the highlights. Or don’t, you’ve already clicked the page and given me the ad revenue now, so what can you do?
Kunterbunt and Tom’s Saloon
During both visits, we took ourselves for a few drinks in the night. A lovely night was had by all, with particular reference to the two places above. We couldn’t walk past a place called Kunterbunt and not go in, could we? It was tiny inside and exactly what you’d expect a gay pub in Germany to be like – not especially good beer and colossal screens showing explicit, vanilla porn in 480p. I haven’t seen an arse that pixelated since the heady days of being a teenage boy with a dial-up connection and trying to bust one out to some knockoff X-Files photoshop. One video being screened depicted some long-since-dead twink getting boffed on the bonnet of a moving Land Rover to which I had nothing but admiration – I get distracted to the point of crashing just pushing my glasses up my nose, let alone having to do a three-clench turn on some leather-bound Adonis.
The barman – a charming, hyper-excitable bear – recognised us from the first visit and stationed us at the end of his bar so he could feed us knock-off Jagermeister and scream HOLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH at me every time I came back from the toilet. He was a delicious affront to my senses and even brought Paul out from his shell. We spent many hours in there and I made significant progress on my German oral – it’s always been a language I was keen to get my tongue around.
Tom’s Saloon was better, although I felt they ought to have had a whiparound for some pennies for the ‘leccy box – at some points it was almost pitch black and I didn’t know where to put my face. I’ll give you an insight into my hamfisted (steady) pulling technique here though: I caught the eye of, and received a smile from, an absolutely stunning older bloke who was dressed head to toe in leather. Unless it’s on exactly the right person I’m not usually a fan (there’s lots of blokes – me included – who look like a discarded back-alley sofa in leather) but this man, with his beard white as snow and arms like swollen tree trunks, spoke to me on a primal level.
Buoyed up with the confidence that too much booze and too little lighting can give to a fat bloke, I sauntered over to introduce myself with the classic line ‘I fucking love your outfit, mate’. Outfit, though. I mean, the poor bloke would have struggled with his talc and zips and buttons all evening and here’s me leering at him like he’s come tap-dancing down the stairs like Satine from Moulin Rouge. Which is ironic, actually, given I was the one left breathless. Once I’d apologised for my language faux-pas the ice was broken and we enjoyed an hour of pleasant discourse culminating in him giving me his number and me being invited back to Norway. I’m not suggesting I was keen but I had klm.com loaded before he’d even finished explaining his playroom layout.
You mustn’t worry, by the way, Paul was making his own fun. Which admittedly sounds like he was fapping at the bar, but please, have a bit of decorum – this is a family blog.
Tangentially linked to the above, we were left with a difficult decision when 4am rolled around and we realised that no Ubers were going to our hotel. We could walk, of course, but fat and unsteady through unfamiliar streets? What if we got kidnapped and subject to all sorts of nefarious unpleasantness – or worse, what if we didn’t? The solution was right in front of us – take a scooter.
See, Hamburg is one of those up-and-coming fancy tech cities and as a result, is utterly awash with electric scooters that you can unlock with your phone and zip around the cycle paths with. They’re really very handy because you can pop out of any U-Bahn station and glide gently to your next destination. As someone whose ankles swell getting off the toilet, they appeal greatly. But see: when you watch the locals use them, they make it look effortless – swishing past in efficient German clothing balancing all manner of things on their back and ne’ry glancing at where they’re going.
Us, exceptionally drunk, badly-dressed and with all the coordination of a plane evacuation, do not. We gave it a go though, with the memories of both Florida (where a Segway beeped alarmingly at me when I climbed on with scant regard for the weight limit) and Tokyo (where a motability robot actually shut down under my corpulent frame) totally ignored. We were quite something! We didn’t fall over once – perhaps the alcohol relaxed us to the point that we mastered balance and speed with no issue. I don’t doubt we looked like two wardrobes given life, but hey – we made the 4km back to the hotel with only one very quick diversion to avoid the police. Gangster as fuck, us.
When this popped up on our Google recommendations you best believe that we were first in line the second it opened. I mean, a tour of a chocolate factory coupled with the promise of free chocolate? Excited? I was dilated like a rejected bagel. I do think it doesn’t do to look too keen in situations like this, but damn, we had a coach party to get in front of and anyway, this was a hurried weekend: no time to lose!
The tour itself was actually – surprisingly – really interesting, with a host who flitted between German, French and English with the consummate professionalism you’d expect from someone who has spent years trying to keep the interest of forty people who really just want free food and a chance to rub themselves off in the molten chocolate room. No? Just me? Regardless, she seemed to take a liking to me – this always happens for I am simply irresistible and/or always volunteer questions and cheesy smiles – and kept inviting me to show off how easy it was to make chocolate. Either that or she was holding me up to the others as a stark warning about the dangers of calorie excess. Meh, I don’t care, I got more samples than anyone else and brought everyone together with effortless jokes and slapstick – they should send me to sort out Brexit.
The best part came in the room where you got to pour and then adorn your own chocolate bar. Having been so terribly burned by our ‘exciting tour’ of Cadbury World a couple of years ago I held no hopes, but no: it was a full size bar and – her words – any topping you could possibly want. Alas, I didn’t have time to google what the German for ‘brutal, relentless and don’t call me afterwards’ was and she brought out a tray of marshmallows instead. My bar was topped with sea salt, crunchy sugar and some other chocolatey detritus they’d swept off the floor, Paul went for something cloying and some heavy breathing. They were whisked away to cool whilst we were shown how cocoa beans were pressed, but I think she knew at that point she had lost us to hankering after our creations because she wrapped things up remarkably quickly.
I wish I could tell you that we kept the bars as gifts for when we returned home but I don’t think we were out of the gift shop before they were pawed clumsily into our Augustus Gloop mouths. Ah well. We tried.
St Pauli and the Reeperbahn
Hamburg has an especially salacious district known for sex and excess, so naturally my feet were twitching from the second we set down. We went for drinks in a bar just outside whilst things started to liven up, then decided to have a wander about once the sun had gone down. Not a euphemism. Well goodness me: all I can say is that I’m sure if you were a young straight lad you’d have a smashing time, however, there wasn’t much for the lightfooted amongst us. I felt more than a pressing concern for all the (admittedly usually stunning) ladies of the night who called to us (and literally everyone else with a cock) as we walked past. I wanted to cry out that it was ‘nothing personal, you’re beautiful, but I could cheerfully undercut your fees for anal’ as we wandered on, but Paul pointed out the many muscly man-thumbs who were patrolling the area with stern expressions on their faces. As if that would put me off, I’d end up slipping notes in their shirt pockets as they choked me out. We carried on through without engaging though – Paul’s hand on his ha’penny and mine on my wallet.
Paul and I rarely argue – especially for a couple who have been together for twelve years – but when we do, it’s always an absolute corker. Holidays, alcohol and my tendency towards out-of-the-country profligacy does tend to bring out the ire, though. I mean, can you imagine an argument spinning so far out of control that one of us ended up storming off in the dead of night, buying a full-price ticket for a plane ride home and getting all the way to the security gate at the airport before they finally backed down? Was such a thing possible? Imagine such a nonsense! Mahaha. It took several bags of Haribo and rounds of nuzzling to right that wrong, I promise you. Although it definitely didn’t happen, eh, Paul? We laugh about it now, even if I’m still pouring broken bits of glass into his coffee when he’s not looking.
We can’t recommend Hamburg enough: it’s an absolutely gorgeous, perfectly German city. We spent hours wandering out, buying snacks (including a 5am haul of pastries from one of the U-Bahn stations) and just soaking in the city and whilst it isn’t my favourite place in Germany (Berlin, which we are revisiting soon), it’s high up on places I’d cheerfully buy a flat to use as an occasional blowout pad. I’m sure that there’s all manner of historical and beautiful places to experience there that we didn’t touch on – though we did visit the art gallery and fell asleep walking up about ten minutes in – but what little we saw, we adored. As a bonus, flights are dirt cheap and hotels seem reasonable enough, so if you’re fancying a weekend away, do it!
A shout-out to srprs.me (we paid for our own holiday, so not an ad) – we can’t get enough of this. Paying someone else to send you on an entirely random, unscripted holiday is quite the risk but they have absolutely never failed us, always choosing unusual hotels in places we would never have considered. If you’re someone who likes to control-freak every aspect of your holiday then I implore you to roll the dice and give it a go – I bet you’ll be pleasantly srprsed. I’ll see myself out.
Now look, I'm not making a claim that this is exactly like a proper peppercorn sauce, but damn we got it close. We were inspired to make this after buying the Slimming World peppercorn sauce in Iceland. They do some lovely food, apparently, but lord knows this wasn't it. Hopefully you'll enjoy our version! This makes more than enough for four servings - Paul applies his sauce somewhat liberally, as you can see. Mind, that explains why I have the face of a 24 year old.
one really large onion
tablespoon of lazy garlic (if you like it particularly honking - feel free to dial this back)
handful of button mushrooms
beef stock cube dissolved in 100ml of boiling water
absolutely tonnes of black pepper from a grinder or, if you're a fancy bitch, use your pestle and mortar
100g of Philadelphia Lightest (4 syns)
firstly, divven't be adding salt to this recipe - the stock cube takes care of that
chop your onion and mushroom as finely as you possibly can - this is the fiddly bit, but worth doing right
sweat off the onion in a few sprays of oil on a low heat - you want them softened ever so gently
add the garlic and the mushrooms and continue to sweat (both the food, and you in general, because if you're anything like me you'll be chewing your gusset wanting yer dinner) a minute or two
add as much black pepper as you and your weak pelvic floor muscles dare
pour in the stock and whack the heat up, let it bubble away and reduce a smidge, then turn the heat down
add the Philadelphia and stir it through and allow to gently thicken
slop it over your steak and chips
Philadelphia Lightest is fine for this, but - shock - we used Philadelphia Light as that's all we had. I know, we're sluts, but it still makes a tasty Slimming World peppercorn sauce
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Canny eh! A peppercorn sauce done just perfectly! Right, you want some more recipes? Don’t we all. Let’s take a selection from the beef section. Here’s 28 beef ideas, all syn free!