Winter minestrone awaits you – a cheery bowl of absolutely lovely soup, but before we get there, two things!
I know, I know – but we must remind you that our new cookbook DINNER TIME is coming out soon! May 26 – and it is glorious. You can order it here – thank you!
Secondly, this is a holiday blog, so please forgive the length – not often I can say that. If you’re hungry, just scroll as quick as you can straight to the food photos. I won’t hate you for long, promise. Get to wheel out a fancy banner though! Oh it’s been so long.
I’m going to make you a promise on this one: I shall post part one today and part two next week in a break of tradition of me posting the later parts of a holiday trip two years after I’ve been. It’s a bad job when you go to revisit your past frolics only to find the country has a new name and redrawn borders. Still, twochubbycubs go to Formosa does have a lovely ring, doesn’t it? On that note, the rest of the NC500 posts are back in the queue to appearing soon, only ten months late. I know, I’m utter scum.
We’re cheating a bit calling this a holiday entry really because:
- it was a work trip to see our lovely publishers which we somehow managed to spin into a four day adventure;
- it’s London – we were only there but two weeks ago; and
- I’m not writing it chronologically this time, only the highlights, otherwise we’re going to get stuck on me telling you about the crisp selection on LNER for 2,000 words and nobody needs that in their life. (edit: yeah don’t listen to that last one)
Though that said, turns out no crisps on the LNER journey because our publishers had put us in standard and sat us apart for good measure. We aren’t fussy bitches though – we only travel in first class if we can get a cheap upgrade and purely so we can rinse them out of sandwiches and coffee – but sitting apart on what we thought was going to be a packed train wasn’t going to be fun. We nipped to the ticket desk to enquire how much it would be to upgrade our tickets only for the lady to laugh (in a nice Geordie way) and inform us that it would be £180 extra, each. At that price I’d expect to not only drive the train but take the driver back to our hotel to test my own shunt limit.
We sloped back to wait on the platform and to chance our arm in coach C, where we were told there may be some unbooked seats together. Luckily, after pushing a few old folks out of the way there were indeed two seats together however they were opposite the most ‘Hi, I Study Philosophy at Durham University’ person you could ever wish to meet. The type whose volume is always set to vociferous and for good measure, doesn’t so much elongate their vowels as take them to a country road and strangle them until the light leaves their Is. It would have been quicker and quieter for her to get on the train intercom and share her ‘faaaaaabulous dining experience‘ with the rest of the passengers all at once. I don’t think we had made it over the Tyne before I switched to an individual seat a few rows back, leaving my poor husband to die inside on his own. You must understand: it was either that or I took the tiny emergency hammer from the window, clawed out my eardrums and deposited them both in her oaaaaaat-maaaaaaaaaaalk laaaaaaaaaaatte.
Taken four minutes after leaving Newcastle
The rest of the journey passed almost without incident save for a drunken bloke who appeared from the toilet after Newcastle and started bellowing about needing to be let off at Durham, despite the train not stopping there. He had seemingly taken the view that the best way to remedy this vexing situation was to wander down the aisles shouting ‘DURRUM’, ‘NEED DURRUM’, ‘GOT TO GET TO DURRUM’ before a kindly train guard took him by the elbow and, if there is any justice in this world, hopefully pitched him out of the train door onto the tracks post Darlington.
I’ve never longed for a cup of tepid, over-brewed coffee and an adjustable headrest more, honestly.
For the first two nights of our four night adventure we were staying back in the Premier Inn Hub by Kings Cross, where we had stayed only a couple of weeks prior. I had hoped the staff would have been waiting for us by the door to slap us on the back and welcome us home but instead we were given a room in the basement without windows and a bed you’d struggle to scratch your arse in without turning on the shower. Despite Paul’s weight loss we remain a significantly heavy coupling but actually, after some minor grumping and generous lubrication, we settled in just fine. We did try once more to order a drink from the bar (after a previous experience defeated us) but they had somehow managed to outdo themselves with the bartender who looked utterly mystified when we asked for a gin and tonic.
After some gentle persuasion and once another member of staff had nipped over to change his batteries, he managed to pour a single shot of gin into a glass followed by eight litres of tonic. Given how proud he looked I didn’t like to mention I’d ordered a double and so we left it at that, though we won’t be troubling the bar again any time soon lest smoke started pouring from his ears. That’s my job!
We woke bright and breezy enough on the Saturday and rushed straight to our first bit of fun, which Paul had rashly booked the night before: Otherworld in Hackney. I say rashly because the concept of Otherworld revolves around virtual reality and with barely a set of working eyes between us, it was always going to be a risk. I can’t see without my glasses and Paul doesn’t so much focus on a subject as take in the view around it at all times, but gamely we pressed on, me ever thankful for the fact my rucksack contains at any given point about eighty-seven pairs of contact lenses which I always immediately forget about. Quick stop to model.
Turns out if you stick me in a jumper and hat from Don’t Feed The Bears and make me smile, I look like a 19 year old again
After a quick coffee at an arty little coffee-shop (honey, spelt and imagination muffin served with a mist of coffee) we were ushered in to what looked like somewhere you’d go for a colonic irrigation, all smooth glacial pods and people dressed in sterile white. A short health and safety briefing and an explanation of how it all worked (all of which I paid no attention to because there were shiny lights to look at) we signed our waivers and entered our individual pods. A very expensive headset awaits you and once the pod is sealed, you’re away to a virtual world.
To be clear: you are by yourself in your pod and the pod is shut to everyone else. By writing that I make it sound like a wankatorium and it isn’t, but it did alleviate my anxiety about having a headset on and feeling vulnerable with people around me. If that is a concern you share, fret not, it’s all very safe. The schtick is that you’re transported to a virtual island to walk around on – you can see a digital avatar of other players and you can hear members of your own party chuntering away too. That’s the theory – in reality they forgot to close our mics so some poor quartet of girls ended up sharing our sound channels and were treated to Paul and I screaming and shouting (unaware) for a good ten minutes before we overheard one of the girls shakily asking a member of staff for help. Nevermind, we were having fun.
The island is populated by various VR games which you can play together and, after five minutes of watching Paul swat at a wall instead of killing zombies and then turning on the spot for five minutes like a lazy Susan clad in too much denim, we agreed over the microphones to go our separate ways. I spent the next forty minutes chopping fruit, dancing like a loon and playing with a radio I found in the virtual world and had a great time. Paul indicated afterwards that his experience was equally as fun though I remain fairly certain his consciousness is still in the cloud trying to figure out how to open a virtual door. We reconvened for two cocktails afterwards which were included as part of the package and agreed it was all excellent fun. Would cheerfully recommend, even if you have funny eyes like Paul. That’s mean I know, but if I had a pound for every time he looked angrily at me for making those jokes, I’d have 50p. Anyway, for £66 for about 90 minutes of entertainment and four excellent cocktails between us, it was really bloody good value. You can investigate it for yourself here, though obviously finish the blog article first.
Only photo we got of the place, which also includes the wrinkles caused by the headset
We had planned on heading to the National History Museum so I could have somewhere new to look bored and disinterested but realised our fatal error when we arrived to find queues upon queues of harried looking parents shouting at their children. Half-term and worse still, there were so many posh children milling about having a break from the nanny that we just couldn’t entertain joining the queue. You know it’s going to be torture when you can’t tell if the parents are shouting for their children or their dog: come along Rex, come along Rover, has anyone seen Marcus’ poo-bags, that sort of thing. I’d have thrown myself under a bus had Paul dug his heels in but luckily he saw sense so we elected to just go for a wander instead. That’s one of our favourite things to do on holiday: ramble about with no sense of direction and see where we end up. Rather like writing this blog, as it happens.
Not bad for fifteen years together I guess
We had lunch in The Magazine near the Serpentine (I had baked beans on toast, though it was actually stewed chickpeas on sourdough bread because of course it was) and then had a stroll around Hyde Park. There was a giant relay race taking place which we only realised when someone blew a whistle at us to get out of the way. We apologised for being Northern and moved on. This did mean that for the next half hour we had a sea of folks running towards us with expressions as though they’d shat themselves which provided some comedy and we chortled and tittered until we finally made it down to Soho and into the Duke of Wellington. For those unfamiliar, it’s like a virtual reality Jacamo showroom but with added beard oil. We love it.
Though you’d struggle to gauge Paul’s enjoyment as he was sitting with a face full of woe – turns out his knee was playing up, presumably with the shock of walking further than the distance to his car of a morning. Being a loving and warm husband I immediately offered to go to the nearest Boots to get him a knee support (and to have a gander around Dignitas’ website given he’s clearly on the way out) and ten minutes later, with that helpful and caring smile of mine, I handed over an ankle support. Buy at haste, repent at leisure. How we giggled as I left my pint for the second time and schlepped back to Boots, taking a moment to really chuckle to myself at the fact I’d hurled the receipt for the ankle rest into the bin the first time around. You can understand my confusion, I usually just rest my ankles on a workman’s shoulders. Proper support acquired and handed over, Paul gave the occupants of the pub a cheap thrill by rolling up his trousers and slipping his brace on. I was all for the show, but the sound of people spitting their Carling onto the floor was a damning indictment. Despite several of my emergency paracetamol and ibuprofen, the headache caused by Paul going on about his knee didn’t shift and so we Ubered back to the hotel to let him rest.
Eater von Teese
Twenty minutes later I was terribly bored of sitting in the hotel (plus we had a further engagement) so it was a quick kick to his patella and we were off to the next activity, the Revenge of the Sheep escape room at ClueQuest, just off from Kings Cross. To write about an escape room is a tricky business as you don’t want to give away spoilers, so I promise to keep my fingers on my lips here. Before going in we were discussing how difficult it must be to summon up the enthusiasm to be a room host – it’s usually the same schtick each time (with some excellent exceptions) and I confess to becoming a little jaundiced about the whole thing. I would love to be able to sign a disclaimer before a room to mutually agrees we:
- will not take the ceiling apart (because we’re not idiots);
- we won’t move the heavy furniture around (because we’re fat and lazy and it’s all we can do not to take a breather the second we enter the room); and
- we know that if there is a fire we can actually leave instead of being entombed in the room to turn into smoking pools of fat (see rejoinder to point one, above).
But, no, the dance must be danced every time. However, presumably to shut our big fat mouths, our host was brilliant – very energetic and fully into his role to the point where we were smiling and joking with him, which is entirely unheard of with Paul. The room itself (remember no spoilers) revolves around stopping a machine that turns people into sheep. You can imagine the vein on my forehead pulsing as I tried desperately to get my sheep pun in before the host, but I failed. We didn’t fail the room though, escaping with a few minutes to spare. It was a brilliant bloody room too: full of clever, unusual puzzles and some excellent props.
Escape rooms have really upped their game of late and it shows: gone are the days of reading a clock on the wall to get a combination code and acting surprised when the UV lights come on (though UV always gives me a moment of terror anyway, lest the host looks through the camera and assumes I’ve been messily eating a Fruit Corner). I’d show you our winning team photo but I look fat as butter so you can do one. The room cost £60 and you can book online here.
Buoyed with the sense of accomplishment that can only come from shouting at one another amidst the threat of ovine armageddon (and I can’t begin to tell you how tired I am of writing that sentence in my recaps) we jumped into another Uber towards our next activity. But would you look at the time? Let’s pick up part two next week. Spoilers: Paul got taken up the Old Kent Road, I spent an hour with a pipe-smoking genius and we watched silently and bereft as a lady tried to replace an alien’s heart. Those old chestnuts, eh.
The star of the show: winter minestrone, delicious, quick and tasty
The real beauty of winter minestrone is that you can chuck anything into it and it’ll still be good
Oh hello sexy bowl of winter minestrone!
To the winter minestrone then.
winter minestrone with garlic bread
Yield 8 servings
We have been trying to find a halfway decent minestrone for bloody ages and whilst it may not be the most exciting recipe ever, it is one of our favourite soups. Luckily, Ina Garten of all people came through with the goods and whilst we have changed a few bits to make it a little lighter in terms of calories, I can confirm it's delicious. It also freezes really well. Give it a go!
Calories are worked out via the NHS app and are approximate, so make sure you double check if you're not sure.
- 100g bacon medallions, diced
- 2 brown onions, finely diced
- 3 carrots, peeled and finely diced
- 3 stalks of celery (you guessed it, finely diced)
- 1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tins chopped tomatoes
- 1 tin cannellini beans, drained
- 1 tin of butter beans
- 200g dried macaroni
- 250g baby spinach
- 250ml white wine
- 2 tbsp green pesto
- 1.5L chicken stock
- 1 bay leaf
- spray a large pan with a little oil and place over a medium heat
- add the bacon and cook for 6-8 minutes until lightly browned
- add the onions, carrots, celery, sweet potato, garlic and thyme, stir and cook for 8-10 minutes until the veg is starting to soften
- add the tomatoes, stock, bay leaf and a pinch of salt and pepper to the pan, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes
- remove the bay leaf, then add the beans and pasta and cook for another 10 minutes or so
- add the spinach to the pan and stir, and cook until wilted
- add the wine and pesto, stir and serve with garlic bread
Yeah we aren't going to give you the recipe for garlic bread, it's bread rubbed with garlic topped with cheese. Ah bum.
- we sped up this recipe by using the pre-chopped bags of vegetables from the supermarket - not necessary, we're just bone idle
- add some chilli flakes to make this more of a winter warmer, and then die inside for saying winter warmer
- our new cookbook - Dinner Time - is simply amazing - we've seen the first drafts and it's just incredible - you can pre-order here!
- our second cookbook Fast & Filling is all about fast recipes that fill you right up: order yours here!
- our original cookbook is still a stunner and has another 100 recipes to help you out: click here to order
- even our planner is awash with recipes - 26 recipes plus all your planning needs: here
- we have finally found halfway decent freezable soup containers - rejoice - find them here
Disclosure: the links above are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, we will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and make a purchase. Which is handy, as thanks to Paul's love of an Uber and my love of sitting, we're in debt to the tune of £16,000,000 to every bugger with a Prius or Skoda Octavia in London
Looking for another soup recipe to keep you warm of an evening? Try our chicken soup for the soul! Click the picture to go straight there!
It’s going to be a long, long way down…