recipe: quick chicken and spinach curry

Here for the super quick chicken and spinach curry and can’t wait until we give you the ingredients so you can look at them and order a takeaway instead? Well I’ll need you to calm your tits, Susan, because there’s the little matter of some blog nonsense to get your laughing gear around first.

As neither Paul or I have any current life outside of looking after our dog, we shall of course go straight to Goomba news. He’s fine: 13 weeks old now, got teeth that could open a tin of corned beef without breaking a sweat and fully capable of scenting a room with the rich smell of shite with the tiniest farts you can imagine. It’s a bad job when I have to ball Paul’s streaked knickers into my mouth and huff just to let my vision clear.

We’ve been able to take him walking for twenty minutes a couple of times a day, which is just the right amount of time for him to pretend he doesn’t need to offload some freight, fuss about on the field and then send a fax right outside the neighbour’s front door when we’re twenty feet away from the house. It took a solid two weeks of training to get him to that point, but we nailed it. And I’ll say this: I still can’t get past the way that he eyeballs us as he does it. I’ve since learned it is because he feels at his most vulnerable when he’s dropping the property value and is looking to me for reassurance. He’s out of luck: I’m usually bent over dry-heaving into my elbow, but this behaviour does go some way to explaining Paul’s need to leave the door open and announce his efforts (“oooh, I don’t half feel lighter, ooooh, when did we have Cheerios, oooh, call the plumber”) when he goes.

I’m sorry, you don’t come to our food blog to read about our dog’s bowel movements, do you? So forgive me for that, although it will doubtless initiate eighty-seven private messages telling me how awful I am for letting the dog poop on grass or not brushing his ears or not rigging up an oxygen tent in the spare room lest his lungs pack in from climbing over the doorstep. Honestly, and I say this with a touch of hyperbole admittedly, I’ve never known an activity elicit such feedback as owning a dog. I could announce tomorrow that I’ve been smacking Paul about and nursing a merry hard drug addiction to less controversy and ire. Which is silly: I’m no good with needles and the thought of making my own dinner leaves me aghast.

It’s not a complaint, though, as people mean well, but it just leaves me paralysed with choice and options. I’m indecisive at the best of times – or am I? – and you must understand that any decision I eventually make is normally backed up by eighteen months of feverish googling and pained expressions as I discover a counterpoint opinion to something I’d finally accepted. But, I know such advice is given with good intent and therefore I can take no real issue with it, even if I do now have four different harnesses for Goomba because each previous one has been debunked to the point you’d think I was strapping him into a brazen bull when I took him out. Honestly, between this and Paul’s tendency to buy fifteen new toys for the dog every time he goes out – he has that poor-kid-to-comfortable-adult character trait where he can’t leave a shop with both arms the same length – we’re about two weeks from declaring bankruptcy.

One cheery update is that we have found an excellent doggy day care centre where Goomba can socialise with other dogs a couple of afternoons a week. Even cuter is the fact that he doesn’t get to go into the big dogs school yet but rather ‘Little Legs’ club because he’s so wee. I had to chaperone Paul on the first day just in case they assumed he was joining as well. I can see now why parents get so anxious and fretful about their children going to school for the first time: would Goomba fit in, would he be bullied, how many tabs do I need to stick behind his ear so they think he’s cool – all the usual presentiments that come with new experiences.

We needn’t have worried. At the induction he was placed with a tiny pug who immediately chased him about the garden for a few minutes until Goomba realised that she wasn’t a threat. Indeed, he did such a volte-face regarding his opinion on this pug that he set about chasing her and then, somewhat embarrassingly, mounted her. There’s something a touch unseemly about discussing payment plans with a trainer whilst your dog is jabbing his lipstick into thin air with a lurid leer immediately over her shoulder. Goomba isn’t a big dog by any means but sexual intercourse between a Springer Spaniel and a Pug is going to be the equivalent of trying to park a bus in a tissue box.

He’s since been back a few times and is absolutely loving it, which is a relief, as it does free up some of my day-time for occasionally remembering to work and to attend to my chores. Thursday was an especially productive day: I had a builder round to look at the side of our house (still covered in paint and varnish from the shed fire) and we mutually agreed that it hadn’t magically disappeared in the five months since someone last came round to look at it. A dishwasher repair man then managed to fix the leak in our dishwasher and Paul and I had a giddy forty minutes of clean plates before realising it was still pissing lemon-scented detergent all over the kitchen floor. I called Goomba in from the kitchen and momentarily thought he’d developed rabies.

Looking sharp, though.

But most exciting of all was the surprise appearance of a group of tree surgeons that I had clean forgotten I’d arranged who had come to remove a couple of dead trees from our garden. Well of course they’re from the garden, they’re not likely to be growing in our utility room now are they. The tree at the back was in danger of falling over and crushing that which I hold most dear – my car – so that was an easy decision, but the tree at the front goes some way to masking us from the gaze of some of our less cheerful neighbours. Though, to be fair, it’s perhaps not that startling that the tree is dying given one of those aforementioned neighbours spends so long staring daggers at us that I’m surprised she hasn’t burned straight through it like Homelander.

Thusly I did get to spend a merry hour watching very talented blokes cutting the tree down and feeding it into the chipper, although they did nix my request to have a go at it myself. Probably wise: I’m an inherently clumsy person and I’d have only ended up tumbling in face-first after tripping over my own shadow. They did such a terrific job and, even better, left without taking payment – the ideal situation. I did agonise for a few moments before calling them back and pressing a bundle of notes into his hands like a nana giving pocket money. The garden seems a lot lighter now, which is handy as it matches my wallet.

And that’s us for now. Before I get to the quick chicken and spinach curry recipe, just a quick word of apology. With us having to look after Goomba so much and get him settled him, we’re very conscious that we haven’t been quite as active about replying to messages and comments as we normally are. If you have contacted us, or tagged us in a story, or made our recipes – we thank you, and apologise for not replying. Happily, we’re back on an even keel now and that ship should right itself shortly. Thank you for persevering with us, I know we’re awful.

Oh – a double apology! My phone is taking absolutely gash photos at the moment. Looking to get it fixed, but yeah, bear with.

chicken and spinach curry

The chicken and spinach curry tastes a lot better than it looks, I swear

chicken and spinach curry

Now you get to see the chicken and spinach curry from a different angle, I do spoil you.

The quick chicken and spinach curry, then!

quick chicken and spinach curry

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 servings

So, a quick chicken and spinach curry - we've done a great number of these over the years but this one is enlivened with some mango chutney and the fact it takes no time at all to cook. I'm sure it would be made all the better by a long, slow simmer but if you're already tearing about like your arse is on fire, rest assured it's all done in around twenty five minutes.

Calorie wise this comes in at (roughly) a modest 665 calories per person (with rice) and the recipe serves four. Freezes well too. We work out calories using Nutracheck's app which is terrific, but please read the notes about that.

This is a Hello Fresh recipe which we have tweaked to make more slimming friendly. Normally we would stick in a referral link here but I can't in all good conscience: we're having serious issues with the quality of Hello Fresh at the moment, with lots of the vegetables turning up already past their best and items missing from each bag. If that improves, we will recommend them once more because lord knows they are convenient, but for now, hold off if you're considering it.

Ingredients

  • 300g basmati rice
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 green chilli
  • 500g diced chicken thighs
  • 4 tbsp korma curry paste (we use Patak)
  • 4 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 chicken stock cube
  • 200g baby spinach
  • 400g passata
  • 2 tbsp mango chutney
  • 1 bunch coriander

Instructions

  • bring a large saucepan of water to the boil with ¼ tsp salt
  • when boiling, add the rice and cook for 12 minutes, then drain in a sieve and return to the pan with the lid on until ready to serve
  • meanwhile, finely dice the onion and peel and grate the garlic
  • halve the chilli lengthways, deseed and finely chop
  • spray a large frying pan with a little oil and place over a medium-high heat
  • add the diced chicken and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, until golden
  • add the onion and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until softened
  • add the korma paste, garlic, tomato puree and half of the green chilli to the pan, stir and cook for one minute
  • add the passata, 200ml water and crumble in the stock cube, and simmer until thickened (about 6-8 minutes)
  • meanwhile, roughly chop the coriander (stalks and all) - unless you're the sensible sort like me, where you'll scrape it immediately in the bin)
  • add the spinach to the pan a handful at a time and cook until wilted, about 1-2 minutes
  • simmer until everything has reduced slightly, which will take about 3-4 minutes
  • add the mango chutney and half of the coriander to the pan and stir well
  • stir the remaining coriander into the rice and serve along with the curry, and sprinkle over the remaining chilli

Notes

Recipe

  • rice: if you follow our advice to the letter, you'll have perfect rice - but remember rice is a fickle thing indeed - if you measure out enough for four people you'll get enough for nine hundred, or you'll take a look at the end of the boil and see that there's only three grains of rice in there and they're all sticking their fingers up at you
  • feel free to use chicken breast but thighs are so much tastier and worth the insignificant extra calories
  • up the amount of spinach as high as you want too - we love spinach here and could cheerfully double or triple the amount
  • not sure on syns for this - it won't be high, I think the only thing to syn would be the mango chutney and the chicken thighs, so I'd hazard a guess around 4

Books

Recommendations

  • three of our favourite bloggers now have either a book out or a book coming, and we encourage you to support them as much as you can:
    • The Slimming Foodie has a book out now which is full of recipes that'll make your heart sing - good slimming food which, like us, uses proper ingredients rather than crappy pretend recipes - order it here; and
    • Slimming Eats has a book coming out at the end of the year and again, we can't recommend her enough if you want good slimming food that tastes amazing - you can pre-order here
    • Sugar Pink Food also has a recipe book out and lord is she the Queen of food that looks like it shouldn't be good for you but is really bloody stunning - give her a whirl here
  • both Pip (Slimming Foodie), Siobhan (Slimming Eats) and Latoyah (Sugar Pink) are the kindest, most decent people you could hope for when it comes to other bloggers and it really would mean a lot to us if you could support them. They've both been at this for such a long time (like us) and really know their stuff - so go for it!

Tools

  • we are getting a few comments that calories that people have worked out on Nutracheck are slightly different to our total and wondering why - the reason is simple - we may use different brands to you. For example, there's a 60 calorie difference between Tesco and Waitrose chicken thighs, presumably because that extra smugness of the Waitrose chicken adds extra
  • to that end, make sure you're adding your recipe as you go along if you use Nutracheck, although if you're happy with the rough estimate, more power to you

Courses evening

Cuisine curry

I think that’s us done for the day, but if you were needing a different curry idea, may I suggest clicking the image below to be taken to another delicious dish?

Stay safe,

JX

driving the NC500: John O’Groats to Durness

I’m so terribly sorry: as usual, life has managed to get in the way of my travel posts, and I know there’s a few people asking for the next bit of my NC500 story. Now, in the small hours of the morning with a snoring dog on my feet and a grumpy husband hopefully choking on his neck-wattle in his sleep, I can at least get a new entry out to you. As usual I will caveat this travel story by saying you know exactly what you’re getting with my writing style, so actually, no caveat at all. Enjoy!

New to this? The previous entries are here:

You rejoin me at John O’Groats, where I woke in my caravan overlooking the sea, forever searching for Benny. Having expected an uncomfortable sleep given the small bed and the fact that I am equally wide as I am tall, I was very pleasantly surprised to wake up utterly refreshed and full of vim. I shook the worst of the pillow-crinkles out of my face, took a shower in the surprisingly roomy bathroom, making sure to use all of the hot water and toiletries to really get the cost benefit from my stay, and then set about tidying up. We’ve discussed at length my insecurities about people thinking I’m an untidy guest and this was no different, though luckily it only takes moments to clean a caravan. I genuinely don’t know why Paul’s mother complains: it must make a nice change from running the hook-a-duck stall.

Having exhausted all that John O’Groats had to offer (I considered paying 10p for a go on the public toilet ride but it was closed for maintenance), I pointed the car west for the next part of my journey, the ninety or so miles along the top of Scotland to Durness, where I had booked a cabin to myself for the next two days. I had no real plans for this trip other than to drive and stop wherever I fancied on the way, and, knowing Durness was a very small village with limited things to do, to stop at Thurso on the way and stock up on some bits to eat. First, however, I wanted to get to the actual highest point of Scotland, Dunnet Head, so on I went.

The roads were like this all the way. Glorious!

Now I’m going to be honest with you here, and you’ll doubtless think I’m a philistine, but I seem to be missing the gene that makes me gasp with wonder when visiting the ‘highest’ or ‘lowest’ of any places. The display boards will breathlessly (makes sense, given the thinner air) advise you that you’re standing at the most Northern tip, but…am I missing something? The sea and the cliffs were majestic, but they were four miles down the road too. I have the same feeling in art galleries: whilst everyone is stroking their beards and making cum-noises, you’ll find me itching to get downstairs and in the gift shop where I can buy a rainbow rubber and look at the dollies. I did have the place to myself which was pleasant: I can imagine it all feels terribly different once the coaches full of shufflers turn up. If it is busy season, I recommend following the tip in my last blog entry and head to Duncansby Head just outside John O’Groats. Speaking of busy, I did spot a cavalcade of motorhomes coming over the horizon and knew then I had to get on the road and in front of them. It seems my early-start-to-beat-the-traffic scheme didn’t have room to accomomdate a quick hand-shandy in the shower of a morning.

Ah yes, the dreaded motorhome. If you read reviews or tales online, you will see the topic crop up over and over. They’re clearly a fun way to do the NC500 but boy are they a bone of contention. See, the majority of the NC500 takes place on twisty, narrow roads with very little opportunity for overtaking if you get stuck behind somewhere slow. Indeed, on the single-track portions of the road (which are bountiful and will, in places, lead to your bumhole chewing open the seat cushion underneath) you may be required to reverse back to a passing place in order to allow oncoming traffic to pass. It’s not an easy drive in a Golf, let alone a set of axles with a Barratt home attached, so you can imagine it just takes one stressy bit of driving, a motorhome to get stuck, and then the roads are blocked. That, coupled with the fact that some motorhomers decide the best way to appreciate the beautiful scenery is to scatter litter and set forth a mini-flood of turds from their septic tank – well, there’s a reputation.

All I will say: if you’re looking to hire a motorhome and never more so than when it’s your first time driving one, be sure to do your research. Take it for a spin around the car park when you pick it up, have a crack at reversing into a bay, make sure the chip pan isn’t going when you swerve around the corner. Far easier to hone your skills on a flat piece of asphalt than it is 1000ft up in the hills with some manic Geordie shouting and bawling behind you because he’s got a box of Magnums melting on the passenger. At some places you will need to deviate off the main route to take a motorhome-friendly route: don’t be a dick and think you know better than the locals. Oh, remember I said that, a little later down the line…

Although I opted to take the car this time, I can see the allure of a motorhome. Back in 2018 when Paul and I did our tour of Canada, we hired a motorhome (more of a converted van to be fair) to drive around Vancouver Island, and it was absolutely brilliant. There’s something super about being able to pull over and make a bacon sandwich at a moment’s notice. It took a good couple of hours to get used to given neither of us had driven anything bigger than a Micra at that point, and Paul had left his powered-by-pixie-dust bumper stickers at home, but we soon got the hang of it and were tootling along at a steady 60mph whilst all our belongings rattled around in the back. I remember driving to one campsite down in Bamberton, parking up, making dinner and sitting outside and just being in absolute awe at the freedom of the whole experience. That was, until two ladies who looked as though they organised dogfights on the sly pitched up in a motorhome the size of a housing estate and told us we were in their spot. We remonstrated that if we were in their spot, could they not just park in our spot which was immediately adjacent, but they were having none of it. We had to pack everything up and drive 10ft down the lane whilst they set about setting up their pitch. All sorts of different compartments popped out the side of their motorhome – little bed on the top, pop-out kitchen, walk-in wardrobe, air traffic control tower, the usual. At one point we caught the eye of one of them whilst she lifted the back of the motorhome up with one arm and realised we were right not to argue.

Of course, us being us, our motorhome experience was never going to be without incident. My favourite involves my husband’s cooking. We had arrived at Crystal Cove campground just outside of Tofino, absolutely knackered from a very long, very slow and very rainy drive. That’s the problem with a driving holiday of course: you never get anywhere because you pull over to gasp at the scenery (you) or to stock up at every fudge shop, grocery store or tat-emporium you pass (us). We had checked in with a friendly chap (it’s Canada, everyone is friendly – it wouldn’t have surprised me if I had been mugged in the street and then driven to the hospital by the attacker in a cloud of polite apology) on the front desk who explained where everything was, cheerily wished us a pleasant stay and then reminded us that we mustn’t leave food out in the evening because they had bears in the woods nearby. Us, as confirmed homosexuals, made a raunchy joke at this (forever in the hope that just one of these bearded lumberjack blokes that are everywhere in Canada would join us in the van) and drove off to our pitch to get some sleep. I woke in the early evening to find Paul outside washing up in the tiny sink round the back of the van. I remember praising him for his proactive stance on keeping the place tidy before I realised he was washing out the little soup pan. Yet, there was no soup to be seen. We’d bought a tin of beef soup a little way down the road and I assumed he’d kept me some aside, but no. No, not Paul: he had been cooking the soup when a giant bug had dropped into the pan from above and, in a fit of Paul-level hysteria, had thrown the soup into the forest beyond.

And yet, despite me explaining that bears seek food out from a great distance and that the rich, meaty smell of shop-bought beef soup may not be the best thing to have immediately behind our bed for the night, he remained entirely non-plussed and unapologetic and indeed, somehow it was my fault for not being awake enough to assist with cooking. You can imagine how such an exchange went down so no further elaboration is needed, save to say had a bear attacked us in the night, he would have needed to wait for us to defrost, given the bed was full of cold shoulder that evening. That, and the noise of me hyperventilating every time I heard a noise outside, such as I was that I was about to have my head clawed entirely away from my neck. Paul slept like a log.

Apology face

Redemption face

Aside from that, and the night where Paul opened the side-door to have a long luxurious midnight wee straight into the woods and then neglected to shut the door properly so we woke up ever-so-slightly more underwater than any reasonable person would like, it was a fantastic experience. We only had one moment of abject terror when it came to driving, and frankly I can’t be held responsible for forgetting to apply the handbrake and having the van roll onto the beach behind us like a mechanical creeper. It could happen to anyone.

Apologies, that was a sidetrack and a half. Where were we? Motorhomes. If you’re doing the NC500, you’ll spend a lot of time staring furiously at the back of them as they meander along the country roads and even more time peering anxiously at the top of blind summits as a Stannah Luxe or a Speedking Aneurysm or a Comet Male-Pattern-Baldness (and for one particularly brilliant moment, a large RIMOR – presumably because he was so close behind me he could stick his tongue up my hoop) trundles over, the owners seemingly blinded to your presence on the road. That’s understandable, the chandeliers probably get in the way. You’ll come to spot that for a good 95% of the time, you’ll see the same three types of occupants:

  • a tiny elderly couple who look like a box of Sun Maid raisins squashed into miniature linen slacks (these are the hard ones to spot, as you can normally only see the fluffs of white hair poking out above the dash) – they’re determined to get where they need to be before Dignitas call and won’t let the fact that their other form of transport is a never-out-of-third-gear Honda Jazz get in the way;
  • a newly married couple, flushed with the smug look of people who only interrupt their lovemaking schedule to post pictures of them doing the finger-claw heart-shape pose in front of every conceivable landmark; and
  • the experienced travellers – they’ve got sun-hats, they’ve got stickers, they’ve got eighteen different ways of telling you you’re going the wrong way at the wrong time with the wrong people, they’ve got a sunny disposition and boy, have they got stories.

Naturally as a bitterly anti-social person who wanted time to himself I avoided them all. If you’re worried that you haven’t spotted one of those three examples on your trip, fret not: simply pull into a layby and wait a few moments for the dust to settle, and a horde of motorhomes will turn up to slough some dumps out onto the grass and thoughtfully adorn the hedges with beskiddered tissues. Actually – a good time to mention this. The only rude person, indeed negative encounter at all, on this trip came via a motorhome. I had parked up in the middle of Arse-End, Nowhere and was thoroughly enjoying the crisp mountain air by filling my lungs with Marlboro smoke. I know, it’s a disgusting habit, but it stops me picking my bum. Naturally, no sooner had my car locked when some tatty old motorhome turns up behind me. This will happen an awful lot, you know: I think it’s nothing more than fear of missing out – people see someone pulled over in a layby and they assume they must be there to look at something interesting, so in they follow. This happened enough times when I stopped for a wee that I considered having some postcards of my cock printed.

As I enjoyed the moment, a young lady stepped out from the motorhome on a cloud of patchouli oil and smugness, and immediately fixed me with a stare. I gave her my most winning smile and she looked at me as though I’d offered up a quick shag and a critique of her shoes. Then, somewhat aggressively, she hooted to her husband that ‘oh it’s laaahveley out here, if only we could enjoy unpolluted air’ and again gave me a look that could have stopped a clock. Realising that she was taking umbrage that I was having a cigarette in a place you’d need to drive for miles to see another person, I nevertheless stubbed it out, but still she persisted staring daggers. I had to have another three cigarettes to calm my nerves whilst they left in a cloud of blue smoke. The fact that she was driving a diesel-belching motorhome which looked as though its last service was by Peter Sutcliffe and was therefore far more deleterious to the surroundings seemed entirely not to register with her. Poor delicate flower. I do hope their tyres didn’t blow out and send them plunging over the cliffs.

Crikey: that was actually a side-track within a side-track, wasn’t it? Let us get back on the road. When I arrived in Thurso I did indeed stop briefly to get groceries, before realising that it was a Saturday and therefore the supermarket was awash with angry looking sorts smacking their children. I bought an entirely sensible eight pack of Monster Ultra and a bunch of bananas. I’ll let you guess which of those got tucked into a side pocket on the door and promptly forgotten about. I can see from TripAdvisor that there’s some terrific things to do around Thurso, but as we were just emerging out of hard lockdown, most were closed. There was North Coast Watersports but I figured that if I turn up there in my bright yellow Fred Perry, they’d think I was taking the piss. I drove on.

What a drive, though. I’m running out of superlatives to describe the NC500 and for that I apologise, but the road hugs the coast for most of the drive, and where it doesn’t, it’s running alongside a loch, and quite honestly every turn and dip of the road reveals a glory anew. For all that I ridiculed the frequent stoppers, this is exactly what you will and ought to do. Greater writers than me will wax lyrical about the beauty and indeed, if you’re bored, have a look on google maps and follow the A838 along. It’s a wonder. I was lucky to have the road largely to myself and, with my music playing and the sea air on my face, I felt brilliant. There’s something unique about the remoteness of Scotland that sings to my soul: I don’t doubt for a second that if twochubbycubs goes tits-up and Paul shuffles off the mortal coil, I’ll end up living up there, eking out a Hannah Hauxwell existence and shouting at motorhomes. Hey, as long as I’ve got my Billie Eilish tapes and 4,000,000 fags, I’ll be grand.

I stopped at a little coffee van called Coast just outside of Thurso, it having been recommended to me the night before. The owner was one of those locals who you just want to stay and chat with for hours: super friendly and immediately picked up on the tiniest sliver of Geordie accent I have. I asked for a beach recommendation and she pointed me down the road to Farr, which worked for me because I could send Paul so many WhatsApp messages about how Farr away I was, so near so Farr, I’ve come so Farr (maybe not the last one, there were sheep about and I don’t need that reputation). We gabbled on at each other and she managed to upsell me a doughnut, which took me all of four seconds to demolish. The coffee, conversation and sugar were all delicious and I said I’d mention her here, though she refused to be in the photo with my giant moon face, so make do.

Luckily, my head not only blocked out the owner, but also a passing coach.

Farr Beach was lovely, as you can see

The fields nearby were full of lambs gambolling about (how do they hold the cards?) and I was joined briefly by a dog-walker with a giant poodle, which, given I didn’t have my glasses on, I mistook for a giant ewe rushing towards me. Gave me quite a fright, I can tell you – must have seen my sheep-shagging joke a bit earlier. Other than that, I had the place to myself, so it was the usual beach-routine: write a mean joke about my husband in the sand, do a Madge Bishop style HAAAAAAROLD into the sea, and then on I went. Passing through the village of Tongue and resisting the urge to buy a fridge magnet, I was hit with overwhelming déjà vu as I passed over the causeway. I texted Ole Vera Stanhope to find out why only to discover that we’d taken the exact same road when I was wee. To be fair, it was hard to see the headrest in front of us when travelling in our parents’ car, given both parents took any moment where they weren’t lighting, smoking or extinguishing a cigarette as a personal affront.

Mother also reminded me that it was nearby where my dad chose to almost kill us rather than give in to someone who wasn’t using the passing places correctly. It transpires that, after a few hours of driving us about, he was short on nerves and patience. I don’t know why: I’m forever a wonderful passenger at the best of times, providing helpful navigation hints and reminders of what the brake is for. Paul loves it: his thin lips convey all I need to know. I can’t imagine that was different back in the day. Anyway, on a single track road no less, we were travelling along at a reasonable lick when another car appeared on the horizon and neglected to pull into the appropriate passing place. As a quick primer, the correct etiquette with a passing place is whoever is closest to a passing place as they approach should duck in. If it is easier to reverse a couple of yards and park, you absolutely should, but never park on the wrong side of the road. My dad, absolutely fuming at this overwhelming injustice, decided the very best thing to do was to drive straight at the other car at great speed. Apparently it was a matter of centimetres before both cars swerved into their respective verges and disaster was averted and his family wasn’t wiped out. I wish I could remember this as vividly as my mother describes it, but I was too busy being hotboxed in the back. Luckily, I haven’t inherited my parents tendencies towards driving recklessly and smoke-choking people in my car.

A little outside of Tongue was Moine House, a derelict house that sits on the outskirts of a giant peat bog. Over the years it has been covered in all sorts of fruity graffiti and is absolutely worth a look if you’re passing by. Top tip: don’t do what I did – I hoisted myself up and through the open window, splitting my jeans in the process, before realising I could have just as easily let myself in through the open door immediately opposite.

She’s been all around the world, but still can’t find her baby. Poor cow.

Then, the road loops around the edge of Loch Eriboll for what was the absolute best drive I’ve ever done. It’s a good twenty-five miles of windy, open road that takes in bits of mountain, loch-side views and forests. The glorious part: you could see well ahead of you and I had it to myself for the most part. At the start of the year I traded in my little shitbucket Citreon for a Golf R and this was the first time I’ve ever been able to drive it like it’s supposed to be driven. Of course, exercise caution: keep an eye on the road and don’t speed, but yep. About ten miles in I became aware of a line of supercars roaring up behind me – apparently you can rent them from Inverness for this exact drive – and I pulled over to let them past. All of the drivers looked exactly like you’d expect – beetroot red faces that you know voted Leave so hard they broke the pencil when they left their cross – but they were having fun. More importantly, I was able to sneak in behind them and drive knowing the road was clear in front.

Amazing.

I won’t lie: I had the best time, but I don’t encourage you to do the same. Remember, the point of the NC500 is to take in the sights and take your time. For this brief but arresting hour, I didn’t do that, but then I was too busy texting Paul to focus on the views in front of me. I’m kidding, of course, we were on a Skype call.

I knew I was arriving at Durness when I started seeing signs for ‘COCOA MOUNTAIN’ and thought it was awfully kind of them to put out a welcome banner. I know I made a similar joke a couple of entries ago, but suck it up. I’d heard tremendous things about Cocoa Mountain and was very much looking forward to the ‘best hot chocolate you’ll ever have hun bab xoxox’ and so, as I was an hour or two early to check in at my accommodation, the lovely Aiden House B&B, I parked up and walked the mile or so to the factory. They make chocolates by the way – I perhaps should have explained earlier. After forgetting to get groceries in Thurso I thought I’d be able to at least stock up on fudge and sweet things to see me through. However, I was met with a sign saying they were shut. I think, had you been within a five mile radius, you could actually hear my heart break. And listen, you think that’s disappointing? I only learned as I was leaving Durness a couple of days later that a gay German porn-star lived there. Probably for the best though, I’m not svelte enough to get away with being a peeping tom.

And that heartbreak is as good a place as any to leave this. I feel I ought to apologise – I’m conscious that my tale of Scotland featured two sidetracks into unnecessary territory, but if you think of my writing style as a metaphor for the NC500 itself, then it all makes perfect sense, no? And plus, leaving it here will rile up the owners of Aiden House something chronic because they’ll be itching to see what I write about them. Spoiler: it’s wonderful, of course.

I promise not to leave it so long.

Jx

recipe: curried banana soup

Curried banana soup I hear you cry – though I’d ask you to keep the noise down because Goomba has just been out for a tom-tit and he’s very volatile. One loud noise and his training will be set back two weeks and he’ll be back to pooing on the utility room floor with a glint in his eye that just screams ‘you wanna dance, bitch’. For a dog of ten weeks he’s got an awful lot of attitude and a very efficient bum, I can tell you. But hear me out on the curried banana: as long as you use good madras powder (the type that may suggest putting a roll of Andrex in the fridge for after), the sweetness of the banana and the cream cut with it to make a very flavourful, surprising dinner. If the thought of it still turns your stomach, then at least this is only the smallest of blog entries to work through with pursed lips. We are, after all, a food blog.

But of course I am going to talk about the dog for a moment more, given I’ve now become a dog-sitting shut-in (and there’s an assemblage of syllables you don’t want to mix up) and therefore have nothing else to talk about. We’re almost at the end of the week following his second jab and are very much looking forward to going out, though I am braced for the onslaught of people coming over and fussing him and giving me their sage advice on how to raise him. You have to understand that although I am a fairly social being at the best of times, when someone ambushes me first thing in the morning when my eyes are still stuck together and I’m dry-heaving my way through picking up his droppings, my responses will be quite curt.

One lady, who I have never met before in my entire life and who looked as though her ears were still ringing from the Big Bang, came to our gate the other morning to tell us that Goomba must be muzzled outside (in our own garden, no less) and that we mustn’t be afraid to beat him in order to establish dominance. I laughed in her face, but thought better than to mention that such a strategy hasn’t worked in the fifteen years I’ve been with Paul and that he still leaves empty milk bottles on top of the bin instead of inside it. I understand that everyone has an opinion and they’re welcome to it but she wouldn’t have enjoyed it if I’d knocked on her door and suggested a couple of ways she could make her moustache frame her face better.

That said, if anyone has some tips on how to get cats used to a new dog, I’d welcome them. Bowser isn’t arsed, he just hisses and sends the dog packing, but Sola is a different beast entirely. She’s already a very skittish cat – she won’t allow you to pick her up under any circumstances and the closest you’ll get to affection is her showing off her anus as you take a bath – and seems to be quite put out. We’re fussing her the best we can (telling her we hate the dog really, leaving Mein Kampf playing on Audible as she sleeps) but she is spending most of her time in her box atop the kitchen cabinets. Lots of online guides say she will come round in her own time and it’ll just take one swipe at his nose for her to draw a line. That’s fine, but they haven’t met Sola – she won’t use her claws, but instead a shiv she’s whittled from a toothbrush. Tough times ahead.

Anyway, I said this would be a quick and easy entry (my favourite) so let us not linger amongst the dogchatter and get straight to the curried banana soup. First thing I want to say is: it’s really hard to make a white bowl filled with yellow gloop to look exciting in a photo. The book we adapted this from suggested serving with sweet potato crisps and indeed, I went to Lidl especially, but I ate them on the drive home. Once a chubby cub, always a chubby cub. You’ll note that this recipe uses butter and single cream and still comes in under 300 calories.

curried banana soup

Curried banana soup: tasty, I promise

curried banana soup

I had to turn up the brightness to try and salvage the photo, hence this curried banana soup looking almost radioactive

curried banana soup

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 servings

So if you trust us enough to try this curried banana soup, please note a couple of things: we use butter and single cream in this recipe, and it still comes in under 300 calories for a lunch. If you're on Slimming World, you'll need to swap your butter for olive oil (though if you use Frylight, I'll do time) and you could maybe swap the single cream for some Philadelphia. I dunno anymore. Frankly, you're better off synning the ingredients, but we've been saying that for years and do you listen? Do you bugger!

We worked this out at around 295 calories per serving.

Ingredients

  • 50g butter
  • one teaspoon of garlic paste
  • one large white onion, chopped
  • one heaped tablespoon of madras powder
  • 120g of basmati rice
  • 1200ml of chicken stock
  • 250g of single cream
  • two decent sized (ripe) bananas
  • squirt of lime juice

Instructions

  • gently fry the onion in the butter until the onion is golden and soft
  • stir in the garlic paste and cook for a minute more
  • add the curry powder and stir
  • add the rice and chicken stock and cook for around twenty minutes on a simmer, until the rice is cooked through
  • add the cream and bananas and blend the absolute dickens out of it using a hand-blender, but do be careful you don't burn yourself
  • serve with a squirt of lime juice and those crisps you bought and ate in the car

Notes

Recipe

  • the banana needs to be ripe - you want those bananas that you're saving for the banana bread that you'll never make
  • we're using garlic paste because it's handy but you could just mince a clove of garlic if you don't have the paste - but then again, you could do a lot of things if you just believed
  • this very well may be a soup that you have right there and now - it'll certainly get 'gloopy' if you leave it to sit, but if that happens, just eat it through gently and you'll be cooking on gas

Books

  • our second book sold like absolute hot-cakes, which is no surprise when you look at how much we all love a cake - it gets excellent reviews and you can do no better, trust me: order yours here! 
  • a plea: if you have bought any of our books, please do take a moment to leave a review on Amazon, we will love you forever and it helps us out so much
  • the first book is a bit cheaper and still an incredible bible if you're looking to lose weight with delicious recipes: click here to order
  • our planner will help you on your way - loads of space to keep track of your weight loss and lovely pictures of us to be getting on with: here

Tools

Courses soup

Cuisine like I said, soup

Whilst we are on the topic of soups that look like hot-arse but taste good, here’s another soup for you to try: spinach, pea and ham thick soup! Click it to go straight there, and you can find all of our other soup recipes here.

Enjoy!

J

I hate myself for saying it, but, good lord, here’s a pupdate

I can’t sleep. The house fire will burn me. So instead of fretting, I thought I’d do some writing and let you all know what’s going on.

It’s a funny thing: I don’t think of the house fire that often anymore, and for someone who is as risk-averse as I usually am, the fact I’ve compartmentalised that minor trauma is quite something. You’re talking, after all, about a man who butters his crumpets the wrong way up because he once read an article a decade since in which someone described the prion-ravaged brain as being a sponge of tiny holes and couldn’t shake the image afterwards. But still, my irrationalities bubble like aspirin in a glass of water , and so I find myself wide awake at 2am writing because someone nearby had a bonfire in their garden and the smell of it lingering on the night air freaked me out.

Now, I can lie there telling myself that there’s nothing in the garden that could burn. I can reassure myself that we have four connected smoke alarms and if the dog does so much as a hot fart, it’ll sound like a prison escape. I can run over the various scenarios where the smoke is something totally innocuous like a garden fire or a BBQ or Paul’s thighs chafing as he brushes his teeth before bed. But it does no good: I need to get up, prowl around my house in my knickers and (new one, this) run the sprinkler for a few minutes to make sure everything is soaked.

Such an indulgence wouldn’t necessarily have me up more than ten minutes, but see, as previously mentioned, our living situation has changed somewhat in the last week. See, not content with having one saucer-eyed bumble who stares at me adoringly as I serve his dinner up, I decided to break the promise I made in book two, give in, and get Paul a dog: Goomba. He’s called that because he’ll be the first thing I accidentally step on when I start a new morning. Because of Goomba, any trip into the living room past 1am becomes a bewilderingly loud and exciting moment for the dog, and he takes a while to settle back down.

Here he is, ‘helping out’

It’s absolutely Paul’s dog, of course. I’m entirely non-plussed about him. He might be the cutest Springer Spaniel puppy that you’ll ever meet, but I wouldn’t know, because I’m terribly stoic and unfazed about it all. Sure, there might be videos of me rolling around on the floor laughing whilst he chews every part of my face he can get his tic-tac-teeth onto. There’s almost certainly a good hundred photos of me cradling him like a baby and blowing raspberries on his belly and fussing him with a level of adoration that I’ve never afforded to my poor put-upon husband in the fifteen years we’ve been together. But it’s all a sham, I swear it.

See, Paul has wanted a dog ever since we’ve been together, but I’ve always been rational about it. We needed to be able to be around during the day to look after him and we needed to be financially comfortable in case of any emergencies. That’s me being sensible. Paul, forever penny wise but pound foolish, didn’t care for that, and it’s always been a sticking point. Why, for example, can I spend £3 on name-brand toothpaste, if he couldn’t have a dog that’ll need feeding twice a day for fifteen years? Many discussions were had and I always promised that when the time was right, I’d give in. That time is now. Naturally, I martyred myself terribly when the time came and I am absolutely keeping ‘getting Goomba’ in the bank for the next time I want to do something expensive and reckless. Which will probably be tomorrow morning knowing me, although it is getting late.

It really has been a week, though. We picked him up on Sunday, with me ever-so-slightly out of sorts after a breath-taking week away visiting friends. He’s been raised with seven other puppies and was already toilet trained and anxiety free. His beautiful mum saw him off, with me trying not to feel freaked out by her giant dog nipples. Look, I know it’s perfectly natural and all part of the areola of life but it gave me a flashback to the pre-Paul whorishness days where I once had an encounter with a big hairy bloke who took his t-shirt off to reveal nipples that looked like burnt runner beans and who then implored me to ‘suck Daddy’s tits’. I didn’t so much suckle as dry-heave and sob into his belly-button.

Anyway, I digress. We got him home (the dog, not the daddy) and honestly, he’s been as good as gold. He’s eating well, only peed on the carpet once (and that was Paul’s fault for daring to do some work) and is responding well to training. Indeed, the only struggle has been nights. In a wild change from my youth where, much like Adrian Mole’s Dog/New Dog, our dog used to sleep in the coal cellar, we’ve decided to crate Goomba overnight. For the dogless, this simply means popping him in a giant crate at bedtime with his favourite blanket, a load of toys and treats, and placing a blanket over the top like one might do with a cussing parrot. After a slight adjustment, the dog becomes used to sleeping in the crate and the owners can sleep safe in the knowledge that he’s not chewing his way through the electrics or watching Crufts After Dark on the forbidden Sky channels.

The thing is, you have to be firm here when crating the dog: if the puppy learns that crying will bring his owners back he will do it endlessly, whereas a bit of tough love will yield rewards untold and a dog who is happy to go into his crate for a vet visit or an overnight in the kennels.

Like butter wouldn’t melt.

So it was, on the first night, that I spent a good fifteen minutes lecturing Paul that he had to be cruel to be kind and that, although the medicine is harsh, the patient requires it. I even backcombed my beard and put on some pearls for that line. Paul’s as soft as starjelly whereas traditionally, I’m the hard-faced cow in the relationship, so I thought it would be no bother. We popped the light off and settled down to sleep.

Well, that determination lasted two minutes. Goomba, despite having plenty of experience sleeping through in a crate overnight at his birth home, was having none of this chicanery, and started howling and wailing and crying and barking and yapping the very moment our heads touched the pillow. He doesn’t strike me as a spiteful dog but I’m fairly sure that if his paws could operate a rotary dial, he’d have been calling us on our mobiles at 3am to sob dramatically down the line from the living room.

The sound of Goomba’s plaintive cries elicited emotions I never knew I had: compassion, empathy, love, protectiveness. It was Paul who had to hold me back from rushing into the living room scattering apologies before dashing to the 24-hour garage to get Goomba a box of Celebrations to make up for my frankly appalling behaviour. I fell asleep with my fist in my mouth that night. Since that night he’s been getting better each time – a bit of crying when he first goes in and then accepting the position (and frankly, that’s a routine I get a lot when it comes to bedroom activity) – and a solid sleep through can’t be too far away. We’re taking it in turns to get up at 4am to make sure he can go out for a wee. We’re good like that.

So, the nights are long, I’m not sleeping very well and each day I look more and more like I’ve been fucked hard and put away damp. I am full of admiration for all those people who thought having a baby was a good idea, I truly am. I know there’s endless love on offer at the end of this but see there’s endless love in my dreams and it normally comes in the form of a bearded plumber whose wife doesn’t touch him since the kids came on the scene. Wrestling myself out of bed at 4am to watch a puppy curl out a poo that defies the rules of physics (how does a 6kg puppy who eats 150g of puppy food a day manage to crap out a shite that looks like one of those draught excluders my nana used to put behind her front door?) isn’t even in the top ninety reasons I’d get out of bed for. Hell, going back to the house fire for a moment, even that night I had to make a conscious decision whether to save the cats, wake Paul and run out or to turn over and hope it burned out of its own accord like a forest fire. I think I made the right choice.

But that’s honestly the only wrinkle and easily overcome and entirely expected, so we can’t complain. In fact, I’ll let you in on the most obvious of secrets: I absolutely adore him. He’s only been at Chubby Towers seven days and already I can’t imagine him not being here. There are times when I walk into the living room and can’t see the floor because it looks like someone ramraided Pets at Home and brought all the toys home, taking care to slobber on the most garish ones. But that angst is countered by how inutterably happy he is to see me, wagging his tail like he’s trying to put out an oil fire because he’s so overjoyed that I’ve returned from brushing my teeth. Sometimes I realise (with a touch of sadness) that the simple act of going out for a night-time drive has been nixed because we’ll need to find someone to look after him, but then that’s all forgotten thanks to the sight of him taking exception to a grey shoe and growling furiously at it for ten minutes. Even now, as I type this with my eyes falling shut, he’s sat on both my feet ever so quietly snoring and kicking his legs at some imagined foe. Which is handy: he’s keeping my feet warm and saves me having to put the heating on – I’d only fret about it bursting into flame in the loft.

Oh, actually, no: the best thing is far more simple: the look of utter contentment on Paul’s face. The man is giddy, and I’m all for it. For all that I tease and mock my husband on here, he deserves the world for all that he does for me, and this little (pretend) acquiescence on my side is but a tiny thank you.

Look at the time: he’s gonna be fussy in the morning. Goomba too.

Mushy now, and the hour is late: I’ll wrap up, with one final yarn.

We had our first trip to the vets earlier today, which was an exercise in who’s-a-good-boy behaviour (the dog, Paul), the most careful driving I’ve ever done in my life (me, kept it to a modest 87mph) and downright arseholery (the vet receptionist). Visiting the vets is always going to be slightly traumatic for all involved, but holy-hell was this visit made all the worse by the attitude of the young lady on the front desk. After explaining to me in a tone that suggested we’d never be friends that only one person was allowed into the waiting room at any given moment and perhaps I could sit outside (the perhaps seemed as optional as breathing), she then took severe umbrage at me doing exactly that – sitting outside the room – and yelled that ‘did I not understand her instruction‘ and that I must leave the building at once.

Now, forgive my conceit for a moment, but I praise myself on two things: a keen ability to follow instruction (when mental faculties are not impaired) and an endless desire to be polite to anyone in a customer facing role. I bit my tongue almost clean in half holding back a sarcastic reply (it was only concern for Goomba that did that, mind) and went outside. Perhaps if this particularly special dolt used her head for something other than somewhere to rest her teeth, she would have thought to pop a sign on the door.

Even then, you can almost guarantee it would be a design disaster: a Publisher poster in size 32 Comic Sans with a dog-bone border around it with ‘Apologise for any inconvenience’ at the bottom.

Can you tell I’m still sore about it? Between that and paying £45 for the dog to get a load of drugs blown up his nose (I’m being doubly ripped off), it wasn’t a fun experience. I will be changing vets to our local surgery in the morning: they at least have the good grace to smile and make pleasant chit-chat as you fork over your house deeds in payment for them sticking a finger up your cat’s bum. Which, in retrospect, seems a little peculiar given Sola was only in having her teeth cleaned.

Anyway. I will say goodnight, and I hope you’re all keeping well. I promise that normal twochubbycubs  behaviour will resume shortly. We have recipes and messages to reply to and things to post, but at the moment, it’s finding the time between prising Lego out of Goomba’s gums and eating fast food fast to stop him snaffling it.

It is, you may say, a dog’s life.

Jx

PS: he has his own Instagram account. Because of course we’re that type of couple. Follow here.

Goomba | twochubbycubs’ dog (@twochubbyspup) • Instagram photos and videos

 

recipe: chicken and rhubarb stew

I hope by now that you trust us enough to take a gamble on a recipe if we recommend it: this chicken and rhubarb stew demands this of you. Most people use rhubarb for tarts or crumbles, but if those tarts fancy a savoury dish, what can you offer? Try this chicken dish. The astringent nature of the rhubarb is tempered by being cooked low and slow with some honey and chicken and the end result is something approaching a hot and sour sauce. Please, read the recipe and try it: rhubarb is everywhere at the moment and it’s always nice to try something new. But before we get to the chicken and rhubarb stew, we do, but of course, have a blog post to slog through. If you’re itching to get straight to the chicken and rhubarb stew, then just scroll to the recipe photos (and get some Canesten on that itch, you utter jezebel).

Mind, we didn’t have a choice when it came to cooking with rhubarb: we don’t grow it, but our neighbours have an allotment and by all accounts, they’re over-run with the stuff. So much so that I was sitting on our settee a couple of nights ago when the letterbox clattered and a long pink stalk came poking through. Our neighbour was posting his spare rhubarb, which was very thoughtful, but it didn’t half remind me of the time when we used to have a ‘special access door’ installed for our gentlemen visitors.  Glory days indeed! We lost that contraption in the house fire – it was either save that or save the cats and although a box of matches fell out from under Sola’s tail as she hurtled out, I feel I made the right choice. Probably for the best, the black hallway carpet was starting to look like a badly-tuned television channel towards the end.

Anyway, I’m not here to talk about our lickerish indiscretions of old: I’m here to make an official twochubbycubs announcement. We were going to take an advert out in The Times but this seemed like an easier route: we’d be lost amongst the ridiculous birth and marriage announcements. I did once see a Rafferty Rocket in there, mind you, though you’ll never convince me that isn’t the name of a sex toy you’d order from wish.com.

See, an announcement is always going to be one of four things, isn’t it:

  1. Paul has finally tired of being slagged off something rotten on here, pulled his size three socks up and set off to storm out the front door*, hoping to get there within two days with his tiny bandy legs
  2. we’re releasing a third book full of more amazing recipes, wit and comedy
  3. we’re having a baby
  4. we’re getting a new pet

* Actually, to be fair to him, I’m the ‘storm out and slam the front door’ one in the marriage. The last time I did this I slammed the door so hard it cracked the wall all around the front door. Worse, we have a novelty emergency money box affixed to the wall next to the door which looks like one of those ‘in an emergency, smash here’ boxes where they keep the fire hammer on trains. As the door clattered this fell off the wall, sending a lovely cascade of pound coins showering to the kitchen floor. It’s difficult to maintain a surly face when it feels as though the house itself celebrated your departure by cashing out like a jackpot spin in Las Vegas. Anyway. Where were we? Ah yes, why those four scenarios are just silly.

Well:

  1. Paul knows where his bread is buttered, and given his immoderation towards calorie intake, that’s more than likely a full loaf of Toastie Thick hidden in his rucksack which is hanging in the hall: he’ll never leave. He lives for my bi-annual compliment, that boy
  2. can you imagine us doing such a thing – don’t you think you’ve had enough? Mind, never say never…
  3. there’s more chance of me eschewing cock for good than ever entertaining the idea of having a bawling poo-machine littering our slightly-singed carpet, thank you

So, that really just leaves number four, doesn’t it? Well, in that case…

goomba

Meet Goomba, our incoming Springer Spaniel puppy!

See, long-time readers of the blog (and occasional readers of the books, where I swore blind we would never get a dog) will know we have wanted a dog for ages. Well, no, Paul has wanted a dog since time immemorial – the only pets he was allowed growing up were the more resilient dickies in his unwashed hair – and I’ve always been the sensible one saying no because we work full-time away from home.

But now, with the relative success of the books and the fact that coronavirus has meant working from home for me, we’re in a position to finally give a dog the life it deserves. We’ve spent the last few months applying to take in a rescue dog, getting our hopes raised and dashed over and over by charities that never got back to us or decided, for whatever reason, we weren’t suitable. That’s their prerogative of course, and far better they are choosy with rehoming because the last thing any rescue dog needs is more upheaval, but even so it has been an incredibly demoralising process. I think a stumbling block was trying to find a dog that was accustomed to living with cats: doubly so when you consider that 50% of our feline contingent spends her days plotting ever more horrible ways to kill us. It says a lot that I could empty Sola’s cat carrier one day and remain entirely unsurprised to find a gun in there. The only reason she hasn’t killed us in our sleep is surely because she can’t reach the cupboard to get her cat food out herself. The second she learns how to operate the portable stepladders we have in the garage, we’re fucked.

So, mainly because I could see how much Paul wanted a dog, I set about finding a puppy and, in an especially serendipitous moment of canine oestrus excitement, a good friend’s bitch gave birth to eight puppies at just the right moment I was looking. I don’t mean I was actually looking when she gave birth – I imagine it would look like pushing a guinea pig through a loose pack of ham – but I was ever so excited. I arranged everything and, would you believe, managed to keep the entire process secret until the moment we drove up to pick our dog from the litter. That really is something, you know: I’m as appalling at keeping secrets as Paul is efficient at unveiling them. I’m probably the only husband to sit down ashen-faced and confess to an extra-marital indiscretion before the blood has even pooled in my nethers. He was terribly excited, and this isn’t a man who excites easily: he could win £100,000 on a scratchcard and still complain he’s got silver fingernails. But it was genuinely lovely to see his enthusiasm.

Picking was difficult because of course all puppies are tremendous and wonderful, but we spotted one particular puppy who had taken one look at us and decided to reverse himself under the sofa. After a little reassurance and a quick piss on the floor, Paul was ready, and he chose the shy puppy that had hidden away. And, readers, honestly: take one look at his gorgeous wee face, with that smudge marking on his nose, and tell me Paul made the wrong choice? We already had the name picked out – all of our pets have Nintendo related names (Luma, Sola, Bowser) and Goomba was the perfect fit for this one. I mean I wanted to call him Keith, but Paul said no, the poor sport. Dogs with human names will never not be hilarious to me.

So, that’s our news. I think you’ll agree it was a corker. Goomba joins us late in July, and if you think we’re going to be one of those couples who talk about their dog all the time: you’re right. I’m even thinking of going all in and changing the email subscription title to pupdates. Yeah, you like that, don’t you? Ahem.

Shall we get to the business of chicken and rhubarb stew then? Let me say one thing before we get to it: taking a picture of chicken and rhubarb stew and making it look at all sexy and tasty is an impossibility. It’s a brown slurry. But readers, you just need to believe.

chicken and rhubarb stew

There, a chicken and rhubarb stew: it won’t win any awards, but it’s damn tasty!

chicken and rhubarb stew

Served with rice, this chicken and rhubarb stew is way under 500 calories: it doesn’t take Vera to work that one out. Pet.

chicken and rhubarb stew

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 servings

This chicken and rhubarb stew uses rhubarb to make an almost sweet and sour sauce, and it's beautiful for it. Even if you're not a fan of rhubarb I implore you to try it: if you like plum sauce for example, this will be a winner. This is a recipe you'll need to taste as you go along, adding honey if it needs to be a bit sweeter.

This chicken and rhubarb stew came from a blog called whereismyspoon - I encourage you to go take a look, although reading it on a mobile is a chore due to the video adverts. I know we all have to do what we have to do to get through life, but please, bloggers: video adverts which you can't get rid of - especially ones with music - can get in the sea. That aside, there's some delicious recipes on there. We've tweaked this slightly to our tastes.

This comes in at 280 calories per serving and makes enough for four. Serve it with a decent portion of rice and it'll still be under 500 calories too. Syn wise? Probably quite low, but Slimming World syn honey don't they? Even so, I doubt it's more than two syns a pop. Calorie counts are approximate, using Nutracheck.

Ingredients

  • eight boneless and skinless chicken thighs (don't use breast, you want the slightly gamier taste of thighs here)
  • 400g peeled, chopped rhubarb
  • two large white onions
  • two teaspoons of garlic paste
  • one teaspoon of turmeric
  • one tablespoon of black pepper
  • one tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 750ml of chicken stock
  • five tablespoons of honey
  • four tablespoons of lime juice

Salt to taste. But not too much, you.

Instructions

  • you'll need a good casserole dish - see notes
  • fry the chicken thighs on both sides for a few minutes on a high heat until golden brown, then remove
  • lower the heat a little and then, in the oil used for the chicken, add the chopped white onion and allow to soften and go slightly golden, before adding the pepper, garlic paste and turmeric
  • give everything a stir and cook for a minute more 
  • add the rhubarb and tomatoes, give everything a good stir
  • add the stock, honey and lime juice, stir
  • add the chicken back to the pan
  • bring to the boil, then reduce to a low simmer
  • allow to bubble away gently for as long as you can - we cooked ours for ninety minutes, only occasionally deigning to stir the contents every now and then
  • do taste as you go along - add more lime if it's a bit too sweet and more honey if it's a bit too sour - rhubarb is a tricky thing, but don't forget it'll mellow as it cooks
  • serve with rice to applause and declarations of love

Notes

Recipe

  • this freezes really, really well, so feel free to double up the amounts and batch cook
  • this would absolutely work in a pressure cooker - follow the steps until simmering, and then cook on high for about 15 minutes then release
  • please don't be tempted to use chicken breasts, I can't stress that enough people

Books

  • our second book sold like absolute hot-cakes, which is no surprise when you look at how much we all love a cake - it gets excellent reviews and you can do no better, trust me: order yours here! 
  • a plea: if you have bought any of our books, please do take a moment to leave a review on Amazon, we will love you forever and it helps us out so much
  • the first book is a bit cheaper and still an incredible bible if you're looking to lose weight with delicious recipes: click here to order
  • our planner will help you on your way - loads of space to keep track of your weight loss and lovely pictures of us to be getting on with: here

Tools

  • gonna talk to you about casserole dishes - we have had the same Le Creuset pot now for nine years and use it weekly, and it has never failed us: I can feel confident recommending to you that if you have the spare cash, it's an investment worth making - Amazon often have them on sale here
  • if you're using fresh limes, top tip - roll them under the palm of your hand for a little bit, and then pop in the microwave for five seconds - you'll get so much more juice out of them. Failing that, use one of these even if it does look a little like a tool a doctor would be struck off for using on you

Oh! Bonus tip. Don't chuck your shredded lime out once you've got the juice from it - pop it in a dish with some water covering it, then microwave for about three minutes. CAREFULLY remove the dish when done. But the steam will loosen all the dirt on your microwave, making it easy to wipe clean. Eee, I'm like Kim Woodburn, aren't I?

Courses dinners

Cuisine chicken and other stuff I dunno what to put here I never do get off my back jeez

Looking for something a bit more traditional to use up your rhubarb? Try this – click the image to go straight to the recipe!

Goodness, we used to take some bloody low-res photos back in the day, didn’t we?

Until we all meet again, stay safe and well,

Jx

special announcement: the new book is £6 on Amazon!

Forgive the short intrusion (said that before so many times in my life) (sigh) but this is a pretty big deal! Amazon have our new cookbook for £6 delivered if you’re a Prime member, today and possibly tomorrow. It’s the cheapest it has ever been and I doubt very much it’ll come back down. If you’re not a Prime member, you can sign up for a free trial and then cancel it in a couple of days if it isn’t for you. Either way: if you’ve been after our cookbook, this is the time to buy. 100 amazing recipes, all of our sass, some blistering nudes, it’s got everything. Alsatians, the lot. Click the massive picture below to order!

Now, if you already have the book, please do us a favour and spread the word! Stick it in your facebook groups, that sort of thing, and we’ll love you forever and ever!

driving the NC500: Inverness to John O’Groats

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Welcome back, everyone. With apologies for the slight delay, but with an agreeable tone that we can still be friends and also appreciate the fact you’re not reading this eight years after the event like my usual holiday entries, I present to you part three of my solo trip around the NC500. If you’re new to this, that’s fine, just relax and I’ll be gentle, and of course you could take a moment to avail yourself of the previous entries:

They’re both hilarious, blistering accounts that will make you laugh, cry and evaluate your life choices (according to my mum) and, in much the same vein as this entry, I would love to know your thoughts. Comments, messages, knickers sent in the mail, whatever you like. Is it too detailed? Not detailed enough? You want to see more photos? Let me know! But for now, get a coffee, shut your gob and enjoy. I’ll caveat this one as usual by saying that this isn’t your usual travel blog where someone waxes lyrical about stormy seas and windswept vistas, but rather concentrates on the minutiae for altogether too many words and with too much personal detail.

On that note, the morning began with me doing exactly that – concentrating on the minutiae in bed, having pre-empted my eighty-seven alarms and managed to wake at the crack of dawn. In the absence of the usual twenty stone of farting gristle I have lying next to me, who will gamely offer to lend an orifice as long as I make him breakfast after, I had to sort myself out. And readers, I did, and once I had scattered a half billion little versions of me all over the place (imagine being one of those for a second: you burst into being ready to go find an egg, and instead you’re left gasping for air amongst a forest of chest hair and Lotus Biscoff crumbs – it’s no life, this) I squelched to the shower, ready to wash off my sin and face the day.

Except, no. As previously referenced, showering in Scotland seems to be an abstract possibility: every single shower (bar one) I ended up with would have struggled to extinguish a lit match. This one was by far the worst – I turned it on, fiddled with the knob and received nothing but a splutter for my trouble. THEN I HAD A SHOWER AYOOOOOOO. No, shush, don’t be silly, but I would have been wetter had I stuck the bit where Mufasa dies in the Lion King on Youtube and used my tears to work up a lather. A far from ideal situation when you’ve got body hair like me – my stomach looked as though someone had drowned a cat in PVA glue. I dabbed the best I could with the towel they provided (I say towel, I assume it was an off-cut from the master towel they kept locked away), got dressed, sat on the edge of the bed to listen to my stomach crinkle under my t-shirt, then went to breakfast.

In keeping with yesterday’s theme of there being no-one in the hotel, I breakfasted entirely alone, save for the very attentive and slightly frazzled waiter. I was confused as to why he seemed so harried given I was the only one in the breakfast room, but an answer revealed itself moments later. Having politely and warmly taken my breakfast order, fussed about with the coffee and presented an entirely charming image at 7am in the morning, he went into the kitchen and seemingly started a ferocious argument with half of Scotland about the fact the boiler was broken. I’m not one to listen to other’s drama: it was all I could do to gum my toast lest the crunch I made from chewing it drowned out an important detail. Still, explains the crap shower. Breakfast was delicious – I’ve seen some snotty comments about the fact they use those ‘terrible pink cylinder’ sausages but I’m all for it. If I’m having a fried breakfast I want mush and fat and grease on my chin, not a lecture about how they source the bacon from pigs that have a fortnightly bus-trip out to National Trust properties to discuss culture. Not enough toast, but then there’s never enough toast. Until the day I’m gazing at my beloved across a table upon which a rotary toaster and at least four different loaves of bread has been placed, I’ll never be truly happy.

I went back to the room, picked up my things, emptied their ‘welcome tray’ into my bags and made for the car. As with previous drives, getting on the road early and putting some miles in would give me the chance to stop wherever I wanted, and I thoroughly recommend you do the same thing. It frees up your evening too, which in my case was very important because would they even air The Chase if I wasn’t there bellowing the answers at home? The road is 120 miles along the A9 and A99 and will give you the first opportunity to see what the NC500 is about, given it hugs the coastline for most of the drive and gives you several chances to test the clutch in your car and the swearing in your vocabulary. It’s terrific. I had accommodation booked at John O’Groats with a check-in available at 5pm so I had all the time in the world. But first, some progress please.

I managed 5.4 miles. Spot the recurring joke in these travelogues yet? In my defence, I was being told – nay, instructed – that I must stop at a Harry Gow bakery and try a dream ring. Spotting a turn-off for a takeaway Harry Gow, I bustled in and got myself one. Now here’s the curious thing: despite having tried one, despite having a photo in front of me eating it, I still can’t quite remember exactly what it is. My best guess is a sweet bun cut in half, filled with cream and glazed. Either way, it was delicious and once the sharp pains in my right shoulder had subsided, I was glad to have tried one. Now, I know what you must be thinking – where’s the obvious joke? Well, readers, if you think I’m that predictable, you’re absolutely right: it certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve smashed a cream ring in whilst parked up in a layby, and nor was it the first time I’ve ever driven away from a bank of lorries with my lips glazed. Sigh. Sometimes I feel trapped by my own reputation.

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You wish you were this classy: me smashing a Dream Ring on the NC500

Leaving Inverness exposed the first issue with this trip and one that you must bear in mind: mobile reception. It’s absolutely gash. I’m with Three and for most of the trip going forward until I got back to Inverness, the signal was patchy at best and more often than not, non-existent. This came to light when my friend called for a catch-up and I had to sensitively ask if he had developed a stutter in my absence. So if I may offer up a tip: download the relevant Google Maps section for your trip whilst you have Wifi so you don’t get lost, make sure you have a few Spotify lists downloaded to your phone, and then chuck it in the back and forget about it. It’s actually a nice feeling, being cut off, but if you’re dependent on your phone for work, you will absolutely struggle. You can check the strength of your signal right here, so you can.

First pit-stop, after about thirty miles of driving, was the charming little seaside town of Dornoch (and just up the road, the village of Embo). My boss, once she had recovered from the shock of me asking for yet more time off to gallivant, had earnestly told me that I must visit. For once, I did what I was told, and was very glad to have done so. The beach was utterly magnificent – miles upon miles of pristine sands and blue water and, even better, I had it mostly to myself. There’s that setting off early point again, and it’s one I am going to keep repeating because it made such a difference. There’s a little car park right by the beach and good clear paths (part of a golf course) along the sands if you aren’t up to walking on the beach. I took some photos that I’d never look at again, wrote my name and number in the sand with a shell in case I did a Harold Bishop and set off walking. I’m a terrible walker – very much the type of muttonhead who will cast out in one direction, forget to check the tides and wonder why I’m suddenly cut off from the shore and in dire need of rescue – but I was confident the tide was heading out, so cracked on.

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The beach at Dornoch on the NC500

I had the faint memory of Embo being nearby so decided to walk there – forgetting because of course I did that I would need to walk back – and although my feet were aching at the end of it (just over 6 miles) it was a lovely morning out. More sensible folk would elect to take a coat and a bottle of water but not me, I bravely ploughed on with two cans of Monster in case of emergency. But honestly, there’s something quite terrific about an early morning beach walk, especially when the beach isn’t full of shitting dogs and parents smacking their beetroot-faced children. Even better when you can caterwaul along to Cher and nobody but the odd passing dog-walker can pass judgement. I think I may have took a wrong turn at Embo – it seemed as though it was just a caravan park so I didn’t explore – but the round trip is one I recommend.

As I returned to the car alongside the golf course I reminded once more that there is no sport more responsible for questionable fashion choices than golf. I mean, I genuinely don’t understand it. I’m not one to judge anyone’s sartorial choices – I look as though I wandered into the ASOS warehouse with my arms open and eyes shut – but I’ve never seen so many awful pastel trousers, ill-fitting Ben Sherman shirts and smugly self-satisfied smiles. We recently had cause to stay in an actual golf resort and the only good thing I can say about all the men walking around was that it must be nice to be so confident that you can match the volume of your trousers to the volume of the voice you use to rah-rah to your business colleagues. We had a balcony room which overlooked the golf course and could hear every word of their oneupmanship and gasconade and it was a genuine fucking torture. No wonder their wives were off shagging their personal trainers.

Please, if you’re a golf player, remember the rule of twochubbycubs: if we’re slagging something off, we aren’t talking about you. Mind, if you are a golf player, you’ll probably be talking about yourself anyway, so swings and roundabouts.

Once back in Dornoch I took the opportunity to look around the town and buy a keepsake to stick in our games room. Again, Facebook came through with suggestions and peer pressure sent me to the welcoming arms of Tartan Creations. I’m starting to become aware that if people on Facebook had suggested taking up heroin I’d have had a belt around my arm quicker than you could say ‘least it’s not round my neck’. Nevertheless, it was a good suggestion and Yvonne and James entertained my nonsense for a good ten minutes before I bought a pillbox to keep my multivitamins in and admonished the Anderson tartan. If I may be serious for a moment: one of the best parts of this holiday was chatting to the various little businesses around the NC500 who were all gearing up to welcome people back after what must have been a bloody shite year thanks to COVID. If you do visit, make sure you visit these businesses: buy a trinket, or a coffee, or something. Businesses need it.

I pointed the car North and decided, for once, to keep driving – I had planned to stop at Whaligoe Steps but read online that it was shut whilst they strengthen the stones – apparently they were sick of people walking all over them. Boom! You can imagine how distraught I was at having to skip a 360-step climb, can’t you? I did stop for a moment in a little nearby harbour town to catch my breath and managed to clatter my head off a harbour wall – my first and only injury of the trip.

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That’s really quite something for me, mind you, I’m tremendously accident prone. I once misjudged my own doorstep leaving the house and pitched myself head-first into the front lawn. My masculine scream of terror would have given the neighbours something to laugh at, though, which saved them looking for another source of comedy for a couple of years. I tittered when I drove through a town called Occumster – I presumed they had put out a welcome sign for me – and I spent an hour or two looking around Wick for something to do. There wasn’t anything I fancied aside from taking in the world’s shortest street, Ebenezer Place. It’s just over 2m long, you know, and I can’t in all good conscience neglect to tell you that it took a matter of moments to see everything it had to offer. To give you a sense of perspective as to my struggles to find something to do, the shortest street experience is rated #9 on ‘best things to do in Wick’ on Tripadvisor, with second place being a distillery. Stuck, I asked people for ideas of things to do and the unanimous verdict was ‘leave‘. Harsh, Scotland.

But leave I did, after a quick stop at the local Lidl to pick up some groceries for my overnight stay. John O’Groats is another fifteen miles or so up the road and it is a curious approach – the landscape gets more remote as you drive, save for the occasional coach of tourists passing you in a spray of rainwater. John O’Groats is known as the most Northerly point of the mainland United Kingdom – it isn’t, that belongs to Dunnet Head just up the road – but it has a gift shop and an easily accessible road, so make do. For the record, Land’s End gets touted as the bottom of England, which it isn’t. It is, however, awful. At least the Visitor Centre is – I’m still bitter.

I pulled into the car park at around 4pm and cognisant of the fact I was meeting my host at 5pm, I decided to mooch about and see what is on offer. Not a lot is the honest appraisal: if you’re heading here expecting thrills and spills, you’ll be sadly disappointed. There’s a few shops, a small harbour and a couple of coffee places. But, that’s the charm of somewhere like this – there’s no need to make it flashy or have crappy arcades everywhere, and it’s all the better for it. I did take a picture of the famous sign, of course, and had a walk along the front to look at the brightly coloured houses which looked over the water to Orkney. Realising that I was running out of footpaths and not fancying slipping around on the rocks, I wandered back to the car park and into Stacks, a lovely little coffee shop selling proper coffee and all sorts of terribly deliciously gooey pieces. I told myself it was just going to be a coffee but I walked out of there with a brownie the size of a paving slab. It was scrumptious and although I planned to save some for later, I scoffed the lot sat in my car. What can I say? I’m a greedygobblegannet! Yesss.

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Having time of my life on the NC500 (I really was)

One thing John O’Groats does have is one of those gift shops which is rammed full of things you wonder could ever sell. I’m not taking the piss here – I promise – but has anyone ever wandered into a shop and felt they needed to buy a shortbread tin decorated with a picture of the Queen, a CD collection of Beatles B-Sides but imagined by a bag-and-pan-pipes duo, or a three foot cow made of coir, or any other number of genuinely baffling keepsakes? I say it all with love: I adore a good mooch around, and was thankful for all the distraction. Here’s the thing though: it’s all for naught, because you can no longer buy those giant pencils with the rubber on the end that every kid in school used to get when they went away on holiday. Maybe just our family, actually, we were told it was a good gift. But then I was also told if I picked at my bellybutton my arse would fall off, so who can say?

I bought a postcard, was told I couldn’t use contactless unless I paid a small fee, so immediately bought myself a tin of Queen-branded shortbread to take me over the limit. That’s how they get you! Another NC500 tip though: carry coins in your car. I use my phone for everything and there was a couple of occasions when it came to parking and needed coins and it was a ballache, so think on. If you’re proactive like me, you’ll schedule a weekly trip to the shops in your partner’s car so you can take all of their changes instead. Think on.

I could see my accommodation – a caravan on the beachfront – from the car, and the owner who I had agreed to meet bustling around outside, so went over to meet her. I’m always really quite nervous meeting new people – especially those that are going to be hosting me – but after a few moments of conversation with Caroline I was completely at ease. I promised not to set fire to the caravan and we mutually agreed that I would get rid of the tougher skidders I’d invariably leave in the toilet, and she was on her way, leaving me to explore the caravan all to myself. It was lovely! Booking a caravan to myself was always going to be a gamble: our previous adventures to a caravan park had left me a little jaundiced – but this was smashing. Very clean, tonnes of hot water, several beds to choose from. I made myself a coffee, ate all of the biscuits that Caroline had thoughtfully left out for me, and got to work checking all the cupboards and switches to see what they did. I can confidently say that if I had the money and inclination, I’d cheerfully live in a caravan, and I know Paul would be on board because to him and his shortarse build, it must be like living in a normal sized house. If you were looking for somewhere to stay for an evening, you’ll find no better than Caroline’s caravan, and you can book it for yourself right here. Hell, you can even read my little review for more details.

It stands to reason that I would enjoy a caravan holiday, thinking about it. Back when I a child we used to take caravan and camping holidays all the time and indeed, it was in a caravan that I took my first steps. There’s a photo floating around at my parents of me standing at a caravan door with a face like a smacked arse – my parents had ducked out for a few minutes leaving me with my nana and as they left, I toddled to the door to see where they were going. Knowing my childhood I was probably experiencing nicotine withdrawal from not being around the fug of smoke that accompanied my parents at all times, but even so. Flash forward a good many years and I spent a couple of weeks a year holidaying with my mate at his family caravan in Montreuil-sur-Mer. I can’t remember much of that save for the fact I once got absolutely mashed on French weed, freaked out and was calmed down by my friend asking me to tell him all the recent Bad Girls storylines. That was a great holiday mind – the same holiday where I finally cropped my long hair off (after setting it on fire a few weeks previous) and walked straight past my mother in the airport who didn’t recognise me without my happening and fresh Severus Snape locks. To be fair, I didn’t recognise her either: she’d decided to get rid of her moustache for the summer.

Anyway, back to the present. I sat and typed up my stories, had a cold tin of soup (I was too scared to figure out how the gas hob worked: I didn’t want to accidentally torch the place or suffocate in my sleep, so I thought it best to leave it) and watched Coronation Street. Well, tried to, but as wank as it sounds, my eyes kept being drawn to the beach outside and I realised I wanted to be back outside. I’d spotted a road up to a viewpoint as I was driving into town so I hopped in the car and made my way – slowly, lots of sheep – up to Duncansby Head. I can’t recommend this enough. From the car park is a lovely walk across the fields to some of the most dramatic cliffs I have ever seen and with dusk coming in, it was just beautiful.

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The view to the cliffs – possibly one of my favourite points on the NC500

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Dusk over Orkney

I sat and watched the sea for a bit, gave Paul a call to make sure he hadn’t died, then watched the sun go down. It was magical, and it only got better as the stars started blinking in. There’s absolutely zero light pollution up there and a blanket of stars was my reward for sitting on the grass for a couple of hours. I didn’t want to go back to the caravan, but even my arse gets numb in the end. After a final mooch around the harbour in the dark, and conscious of the fact I had another early start in the morning, I went ‘home’ and prepared for bed.

Now, I don’t scare easily, but even I was a little nervous about being out in the middle of nowhere (sort of) in a caravan with patchy mobile signal. A friend of mine had encouraged me to watch Under the Skin that night – naturally I didn’t but I had read the Wiki synopsis about how she kills people in Scottish caravans – so I was a smidge on edge. But good news – since the house fire, I’ve been given sleeping tablets for the very rare occasion I can’t sleep and thankfully, I’d remembered to bring one. I’m a total blurt when it comes to swallowing pills so I had to go and fetch a glass of water to chase it down but in doing so, I managed to drop the pill on the floor where it bounced, rolled and promptly disappeared into those little floor vents. Super. I did swear an awful amount and then realised that such anger would serve no real purpose, so slunk back to bed.

I was just dozing off when I heard a woman’s voice shouting ‘BENNY’ right outside the window. Over and over and over, in various pitches. It was surreal and didn’t abate for a good ten minutes (mind nor did I, she had wrecked the moment) and I was just on the cusp of flinging open the window, probably to certain doom, and shouting ‘Agnetha, Björn and Anni-Frid, any other bloody questions’ when I heard the scratch of tiny paws and her Benny came back to her. Drama solved, I drifted off to sleep, and can honestly say it was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time. All that fresh Scottish air, it really gets to you.

And that, readers, is where I shall leave it for now. If you’ve enjoyed it, please do let me know. Otherwise, see you soon!

J

recipe: posh frittata with asparagus and smoked cheese

Posh frittata today, and only a quick post mind you, but I did think it was important to try and post a recipe once and a while on this recipe blog of ours. If you’re waiting for the next part of my NC500 story, know that it is coming as soon as I’ve managed to remember where I went and why I spent so much time swearing at things. I’m not kidding: I keep a little electronic notepad on my phone of anything I can think of to write about and one day it seems I forgot to update it bar one succinct entry: ‘fucking motorhomes’. Now, I don’t think I briefly took up mechanophilia on my travels (real thing, look it up) (in Incognito mode: ask your partner how) but hey, Paul was away and my little Golf does have a cute little rear, so who knows? But yes, that’s coming, I promise, but today is all about the posh frittata. You may realise that we do post a lot of quiche recipes here but as readers of the books will know, you can blame my mother and her eighty-seven chickens for that. I’ve got eggs coming out of my arse, and they have to go somewhere.

Speaking of books, may I make a small plea? Amazon reviews really make a difference for us – if you’ve bought the books and would like to leave a review, we’d love you forever. We have some book news coming soon! But in the meantime, here’s a banner to take you straight there

Paul and I have been ratching about the UK a bit of late – I feel it only fair that he is afforded the chance to look at his phone in a different location once and a while – and it feels weird. I’m still not used to seeing large groups of people without thinking they’re all going to be tumbled into a mass grave a few weeks later like the foot-and-mouth cattle. It’s been fifteen months since the start of the first lockdown (I think, my memory of the time is a little hazy) and, all things being well, we’ll be dancing out properly on 21 June. But it all seems so unlikely and alien that it is hard to get excited about it. Plus let’s be fair, the current Government will probably allow us out for an hour, decide that’s quite-enough-of-that-young-lady and then send us back into the cellar for another year or two to stare at our shoes and draw eyes on oranges for company.

That said, I don’t see why anyone is concerned: you’d think coronavirus was over the way so many people are going on. Masks seem to have become an optional part of shopping again* with people wandering around coughing and sneezing with gay abandon. I can take that though: people were gross before coronavirus, this isn’t new. But those idiots, of which I know thousands of words have already been committed to, who walk around with a mask over their chin instead of their mouth and nose do my head in. It’s such a pointless anti-effort that I can only assume they’ve read that coronavirus bursts from their blackheads and they’re saving us all from that.

*you must understand, I have zero interest in you telling me why masks are useless, or why I’m a sheep. That said, if someone can tell me why the word sheep doesn’t seem correct when referring to a single sheep all of a sudden, that would be tremendous: I’ve just spent five minutes trying to remember what the single form is before deciding I’m clearly having a stroke.

I was in Sainsbury’s the other day and a charming wee woman was standing in front of the cherry tomatoes, agonising over the choice of three different varieties as though she was choosing which child to send to the mines. Naturally, as a calm and patient soul, I stood two metres away waiting for her to get her shit together and finally pick, before I noticed she was pulling her mask down over her chin, picking up each punnet of tomatoes and sticking her nose right in to sniff them. She repeated this a fair few times, making sure to catch the dew of the tomatoes on her nose-hair and moustache each time, before my theatrical sighs and foot-tapping clearly spurred her into action and she wandered off. Of course, as a terribly British person I didn’t say a word to her face and instead penned a snotty anonymous tweet about it, then hastened into her spot to check for myself that Sainsbury’s hadn’t started dusting their tomatoes with sniff. I mean, I know it’s a middle-class supermarket, but sadly not. I did make sure to catch up with her later in the store and fart near her head as she was bending down to select something off a lower shelf, so I consider myself the winner.

Of course, the way out of all of this nonsense is vaccination. If you’re anti-vaccination I won’t use this blog to try and change your mind, because personal choice and all that, but I do beg of you that you at least do some proper research into these things before you rule them out. Taking medical advice from someone who has ‘University of Hard Knocks’ on their Facebook profile and ‘none of ur fukin buzniss’ listed as their employer, for example, is never a good idea. No, my point about vaccination is for anyone out there who is worried about having it due to health anxiety, something I’ve talked at inexhaustible length before. As you can imagine, for someone like me who is a fretter, getting injected with something new is always going to mess with my head. But a degree of research beforehand, a stoic sense of ‘well something has to kill me, and I’m not giving him the satisfaction’ and the angst of not being able to immediately tell people I’ve been vaccinated on Facebook got me past my doubts.

For the record, I’ve had both jabs now, and both times the process was amazing. Turned up, was reassured by someone very friendly, less than a minute wait, quick jab in my arm and a nice sit down. I didn’t feel a thing both times, with the second time especially painless – I had to ask her if she was sure it had gone in, which admittedly is something I’m used to. Luckily, she said I was the best she had ever had and we all laughed awkwardly. Due to NHS budget cuts I didn’t get a sticker or a lollipop which naturally I was fuming about, but you make do. After the first jab I felt like crap the day after, but nothing a couple of ibuprofen and wearing Paul into the ground didn’t solve. The second jab gave me a headache, but that gave me the chance to theatrically wail in the bedroom and turn my back to the sunlight which is always welcome. Now, fully vaccinated, I feel tip-top and ready to spend the rest of my days wincing when anyone coughs and reflexively asking people stay three metres away at any given time unless they’re entering me. I know the rule is two metres, but I’m a contrary bitch.

Oh look at that: I was planning on a succinct entry for the posh frittata, and instead I’ve waffled on ever so. But let’s be honest, you expected that as much as I did. Please do get your vaccine, though. Remember, it’s not all about keeping yourself safe, it’s about making it safe for others who can’t.

To the posh frittata, then.

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Looks bloody good in the pan, does the posh frittata!

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Tried to get a good cheese pull shot of the posh frittata but it was having none of it.

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And here is what the posh frittata looks like inside! SO CLASSY

posh frittata: asparagus, spinach and smoked cheese frittata

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 4 big wedges

The inspiration for this posh frittata came from a book called The Picnic Cookbook which I impulsively bought in a garden centre as an assuagement to my feelings of FOMO - Paul was treating himself to eighty-seven new Yankee Candles and I wanted something. Why he buys those bloody things I don't know: I don't allow them to be burned in the house because they make the place smell like a nursing home, but he likes to collect them. I'll have the last laugh though: when he invariably dies before me I'll cram his piano-box coffin with them and when he goes in the incinerator, the whole of Newcastle will be choked on a miasma of A Child's Wish, Summer Roses and Rendered Fat.

We have made a few changes in this posh frittata - they suggest blue cheese but why would you - and for once, we're leaving out the butter they suggest. You don't need it, and that's that. As with all quiche/frittata recipes you can add all sorts in. Don't be shy. Do read the notes on this one!

This comes in at 375 calories for a massive quarter, or, I believe, syn-free if you use your HEA. 

Also: we cooked ours in our oven-proof frying pan because we couldn't find our silicone tin.

Ingredients

  • 400g of new potatoes - don't need to peel them, but do dice them into fairly uniform chunks
  • 200g of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1cm chunks
  • four fat spring onions, cut into slim chunks
  • a big bag of spinach leaves (150g or so - you know the one, you cook it down and it leaves you with a postage stamp square of spinach)
  • eight large eggs
  • 160g of smoked cheese, cut into dice (your healthy extra of smoked cheese is 40g, if you're on Slimming World)
  • salt and pepper

Instructions

  • preheat the oven to 180 degrees and lightly oil a good quiche tin - there's a link in the notes to the one we use
  • boil the new potatoes and asparagus chunks for a couple of minutes until softened but still with a bit of bite
  • their recipe calls for you to fry off the spring onion, but I don't think you need to do it
  • in a large pan with a dribble of water, and over a medium heat add the spinach leaves and pop a lid on - let the spinach wilt in the heat until it's all done, then finely chop
    • spinach tip - to make sure you get all the water from the spinach, get two equally sized chopping boards and sandwich the spinach between the two - then push down on the chopping board on top so all the water is forced out - then chop it finely, pile it back up and repeat a couple of times - so much easier
  • in a large bowl, crack the eggs and beat them with a good pinch of salt and pepper, add the rest of the ingredients and give everything a bloody good stir
  • slop it into your quiche tin and stick it in the oven for about forty minutes or until a knife pushed into the middle comes out clean
  • if it needs longer and the top is catching, cover it with foil and keep cooking
  • allow to cool and serve with salad

Notes

Recipe

  • you can swap the smoked cheese out for blue cheese as suggested
  • peas make a great addition - throw a couple of handfuls in with the potatoes when they're cooking
  • bacon and chicken can also be added if you desire

Books

  • we couldn't be prouder of our second book: it's technicolour, the recipes are banging and the reviews are amazing: order yours here! 
  • if you're struggling for funds, the first book is a bit cheaper and still utterly glorious: click here to order
  • we've also got a planner: here

Tools

  • we use a smart silicone dish for this posh frittata - this has never failed us once!
  • this freezes perfectly - cut it up, wrap the pieces in foil and take one out the night before for lunch
  • feel free to tip the mixture into several smaller tins to make individual quiches

Courses snacks

Cuisine picnic

Done! And if you’re looking for another frittata recipe, why not click the image below to be taken to another of our favourites?

Stay safe!

J

driving the NC500: Edinburgh to Inverness

Hello! I promise food recipes will be starting soon. Promise. But until then, here’s part two of my NC500 trip! Enjoy all.

If you’re so inclined, you can click here to read the first part of this story of my trip around the NC500. There’s glitz, there’s glamour, there’s a shot of me carrying some milk in a lift that’ll leave you questioning your life choices when you look over at the drab state of your partner. What more could you possibly want? As in the previous entry, I would absolutely love feedback in the form of comments or Facebook messages. This is a ‘new’ thing for me, writing so exhaustively, and I love it – but let me know if I’m going in the wrong direction!

Welcome back. You left me, like I always knew you would deep down, in Edinburgh, tucked up in bed reading my Stephen King novel and missing my husband terribly. Not even kidding: having to bring my own tea, scratch my own feet, shout at myself for brushing my teeth in the wrong key, it was honestly exhausting. I slept like a log, conscious of the fact I had to rise early to beat the traffic warden to my parking space. The night before I had set my usual raft of alarms, spaced out at four minute intervals (purely so I feel like Madonna first thing), and knew that as long as I was up by 7.40am, I could throw my belongings into my suitcase, have a shower and be on my way to slide out of the street with a ‘what-am-I-like’ wave to the traffic warden. Easy.

Not so easy – with the leisurely air of someone who never has to normally get up early unless he’s going on holiday or the house is on fire, I snoozed all of the alarms, choosing to gamble on the old ‘I’ll shut my eyes, I’m awake, it’s just a bit too bright’ routine. I woke with a start at 7.55am, screaming even more so than usual, hurtled out of bed, packed my things and then spent a good five minutes clawing at the door lock like I was a heroine in a Scream movie. ‘They should put some fucking instructions on this stupid fucking lock‘ I bellowed, ignoring the fact that they had indeed put some fucking instructions on the fucking lock and I was just being too hysterical to read them. After a fashion and police intervention I was released and despite arriving at my car mere moments after 8am, red-faced and panting as though I’d shot my bolt in the lift coming down, I was too late – the traffic warden was just popping the ticket under my windscreen wiper. He pointed to the ticket and said ‘parking fine’, to which I replied ‘oh thank you, I try my best’.

I didn’t, and that joke is as old as Paul’s mother and twice as creaky, but I love it. I wasn’t going to argue with the chap: he was doing his job and I had broken the rules, so all is fair. I can’t be done with those who think spitting and swearing at someone for enforcing the rules is good behaviour. I gave him a tinkly laugh, promised to pay it just as quick as I could, then as soon as his back was turned gave him the finger, wished ill upon all he loved and tried to telekinetically push his silly little bicycle into the canal. However, I’m not Carrie, regardless of how often Paul tells me he can see my dirty pillows, so he went away unscathed.

Now, because I do so hate being told off, this whole exchange put me in a bad mood. Knowing that driving when I’m angry is always a bad idea (not because I speed or get aggressive, but simply because I spend so long coming up with the perfect comeback in any fight or argument that I get distracted and stray from my destination) I decided to quickly nip into Edinburgh again to do a bit of shopping and to find something relatively healthy. The shopping part was easy – Edinburgh has an amazing pipe shop and it’s been closed for so long that it was a joy to go scatter money around their counter again. I’m a collector and they had some terrific pieces that I can’t wait to sink my teeth into. I spotted that most of Leith Walk was being dug up to either put a tramline in or take a tramline out (honestly, Edinburgh, it’s been that bloody long since it started that frankly I’ve given up trying to follow what’s going on with your trams, though it seems as though they’re on the right lines) and as a result, the whole street was utterly awash with very handsome men in hi-vis gear swearing at each other and doing terribly impressive things with tools.

Love me, love me, say that you love me

I opted for a coffee from Artisan Coffee Leith, knowing that I could continue my quest to find a decent alternative to milk in there on this trip around the NC500. I’m experimenting purely because I want to see if I can find a non-dairy version that works for me. You must understand that I’ve tried all sorts: rice milk, coconut milk, double cream, hemp milk, pea milk (how, someone tell me, do you get milk from a bloody pea – I mean I have some idea given past experiences with partners on the small side, but I’d love to know), quinoa milk and almond milk. They’re utterly awful, each and all, but you can’t accuse me of not trying. I think I would get more taste and satisfaction from tipping a sample of Wilko White Emulsion into my coffee. Anyway, I digress: I ordered an oat milk something which was actually really good once I’d blown off the froth off and revealed the teaspoon of coffee lurking at the bottom (my fault for ordering what I did, I’m casting no aspersions) and settled down to pay close attention to the workers in front of me.

A merry half hour was spent there, playing on my phone, drinking my coffee and people watching. Indeed, I was only broken from my ‘how do I become a seat-cushion in a mini-digger’ searching by the appearance of a pug jumping up at my leg. I remember looking down into its face, its eye bulging and nose whistling and leering grin full of love, and realised that I was nothing if not this pug in human form. Take a look for yourself – compare the picture of me above with this lovely photo of the pug that was pawing at me.

Fool me, fool me, go on and fool me

It was perhaps time to move on. Before I do though, may I just take a moment to make a plea to dog-owners. Well, two. I bloody love dogs, would love one of my own – a well-trained Springador to fetch my (new) pipe and (old) slippers, for example – but I do wish owners wouldn’t let their dogs run up to people and start scrabbling at their legs. There’s always the fear that the dog might not be as friendly as expected, not least when it gets a whiff of my gooch and senses a rival, and I always have to do that fruity little half-dance until I’m sure it won’t take my fingers off or leave shitty paw-prints all over my jeans. Even the most placid dogs can turn on a sixpence: we used to have a massive Old English Sheepdog growing up called Shannon. She was terrific, the perfect family dog, tremendous with young kids. That was fortunate in and of itself, given my mum and dad used to leave us with Shannon whilst they went out for the day – it was truly a momentous occasion when she figured out how to put the chip-pan on – and it was all very homely and just-so.

However. We once allowed a cousin of mine to come up from Darlington to stay at our house for a week. Upon alighting from the bus and appearing at the bottom of our drive, Shannon went hurtling down, leapt up and bit her on the arm. As welcomes go, it wasn’t the warmest. It wasn’t a terrible bite, no-one was put down, but my cousin was sent back to Darlington on the next bus home with a bandage on her arm and more fleas in her ear. I like to think Shannon was protecting us from the bewilderingly awful Darlington accent if nothing else. But let that be a lesson to all owners out there: it just takes one moment of panic, or a visitor from Darlington, to ruin your day.

The other plea? You own a dog. You own a puppy. You do not own a pupper or a doggo. As inexplicable bends of the English Language go, these two cutesy-poo slang terms deserve to be cast into the fire, along with those insufferable people who insist on saying they’re going on their holibobs. I’m by no means a language snob, but this absolutely needs to stop before I do time.

And don’t get me started on the bloody Rainbow Bridge.

Anyway! Once I’d returned the pug to its rightful owner, and tried to clean the slug-trails that its little lipstick had left on my trousers, I wandered back to the car, took another moment to fully appreciate my parking fine, smoked furiously for another fifteen minutes and then, finally, I was on the road to Inverness. Travel and adventure was in front of me, nothing but road until my destination.

I managed exactly 9.8 miles towards the NC500 before I was gripped by the panic of leaving a service station unattended (what if the next chance to spend £9.60 on a Jamie Oliver toastie and a Yorkie Duo was days away?!) and had pulled into South Queensferry Services to fill up on petrol. I’m doing myself a disservice here, actually. I hadn’t just pulled in to fill up on snacks but rather I was trying to get into the habit of stopping at a petrol station whenever my car was halfway to empty on fuel. The NC500 gets fairly isolated for large stretches and so it’s never a good idea to let your tank run dry. You’re never that far from somewhere to fill up – you can find a very handy map here showing all the petrol stations along the route – but you don’t want to risk it. This is entirely contra to how I normally approach my driving – I like to coast along on fumes and see how economically I can run the car (unless I’m in a huff, in which case I drive the car like I’ve stolen it – but you don’t want to do that on the NC500 either).

As it happens, the fuel pumps were all taken and I couldn’t face waiting, so I pulled up in front of the shop instead and went inside, a decision absolutely not influenced by the fact there was a total DILF serving behind the counter. I selected some potato salad from the Marks and Spencer’s ‘How much?!’ range, decided against buying any more Monster at this point, and made my way to the till. Those who have been reading my nonsense for a while will know that I am a terrible flirt in both senses of the word – in that I am utterly shameless but also, dreadful at it. However, it seemed to be going so well, with me managing to shoehorn in a reference to my husband and ‘of course he’s letting me do my own thing this week’ with a wink so severe you’d forgive the cashier for leaping over the counter and assuming I was having a stroke. Of course, holiday romances are fleeting things indeed and in no time at all it was time to say goodbye, not least because some lady behind me started shrieking that she had kids in the car. I apologised profusely – for the fact she had children – and we all went our separate ways.

As I made to leave, which involves decanting all of the things from my coat pockets onto the passenger seat and then driving just enough to make sure everything falls down the side into some unreachable void, I happened to look up to spot my petrol-dispensing inamorato waving at me with longing in his eyes. Knowing we would always be what could have been, I showed him my wedding ring (I wear it on a chain around my neck, it’s easier to whip off if things are getting steamy), gave him a confident smile and backed the car out of the space. Thankfully, the good people at VW had fitted my car with a clever emergency automatic brake function, because that’s all that stopped me from reversing straight into a Transit van which had filled the space behind me whilst I fussed about putting my seatbelt on. Turns out he was simply warning me of the hazard rather than seeing me off like a wife saying goodbye to her sailor at sea.

I’m not one to feel shame or embarrassment easily, but you could have honestly lit a cigarette off my flaming cheeks. I pulled my hoodie up and made for the relative safety of the Queensferry Crossing, which, after resisting the urge to dash the car against the barriers, carried me over the Firth of Forth in no time at all. Actually, let’s talk about bridges for a second. All humans have varying degrees of what the French call l’appel du vide, which translates as ‘call of the void’. Put simply, it’s that feeling you have when have an irresistible urge to do something entirely stupid and dangerous to see what happens. For a lot of people, it takes the form of wanting to throw themselves over the edge if they’re standing on a cliff, and in my case, whenever I drive over a bridge I am gripped with the sudden need to turn my car suddenly and career over the side. I mean, I’m never going to do it, not least because I would hate the ignominy of being winched from the river in my own personal sea of empty cigarette packets and ‘solo travelling companions’ that would burst from every conceivable compartment in my car, but the call is always there. I have it to other degrees too. For example, when I’m driving along the motorway, I’m always taken with the thought of picking up my phone, lowering the windows on the driver side and posting it smartly through the gap created, sending it to a clattering shatter on the tarmac. If I pass a drain and I have my car keys in my hand, I have to actively step back from hurling them into the sewers. Every day is an adventure in my swirly-whirly mind.

The drive to Inverness from Edinburgh is quite something, though. You take the M90 for an easy drive up to Perth, then join the A9 which takes you up to Inverness (and you’ll stay on the A9 when you start the NC500 proper) and for the most part, it’s a delight to drive, taking in all manner of little towns and places to stop. Google puts it at around three hours (160 miles) if you absolutely hoof it, but there’s no sport to be had in doing it as quickly as you can. Certainly, when you get up amongst the Cairngorns you’ll be stopping to take pictures as you go. I was spectacularly lucky with this drive (and indeed, for the whole trip) in that I seemed to always be ahead of the other tourists and when I did stop, I had places all to myself. If you’re considering your own NC500 trip, give some very serious thought as to the time you’ll be doing it – early in the season, before the midges and the campervans and the tourists and the shrill people in rustling activewear, may be a more attractive prospect.

Anyway. You may have already gathered that my driving style is never A to B. Rather, imagine you popped a hamster on a table and put a delicious carrot at the other end. You might expect it to make a beeline for the carrot, and that’s most people when they drive. To get the measure of me, imagine you threw a handful of sunflower seeds all over the table. Then set the table on fire, and gave the hamster a line of sugar. Now the hamster is me: I’ll get to the carrot eventually but there’s so many distractions along the way. That’s how you should treat the NC500: have a final destination in mind absolutely, but do stop to take in all of the side sights as you go. I’ll touch on that in another entry.

This is why you shouldn’t rush the NC500 – views like this at every turn

Knowing that I was going to be coming back down the A9 at the end of the holiday, I made a deliberate decision not to stop at every single opportunity and instead, to save some sights for the way back. My first stop – suggested by everyone and their mother on Facebook – was Dalwhinnie, a charming little village about halfway up the journey. There’s not an awful lot to see, but they have a distillery, and like I need any reason to buy booze. I parked up in the empty car park (empty save for a woman who had parked her oversized Mercedes across three bays, which I thought a remarkable feat of driving, and made sure to snidely compliment her on such as I left).  The tour wasn’t open as most businesses were just starting back up, but I spent a happy twenty or so minutes looking around the gift shop and availing myself of their lovely clean toilets before I was accosted by a very friendly lady who asked if I needed help choosing a whisky. I hadn’t planned on buying any, but she was ever so persuasive. My experience with whisky extends to enjoying a happy night or two drinking with a good friend a few weeks previous (having never enjoyed it before) but I styled it out before panicking and selecting the first bottle I could reach. Clearly my knowledge and experienced impressed her ever so and I was out of the door, fifty quid lighter, with a bottle of something golden which will sit in our bookcase until time immemorial.

Maybe the real gift were the friendships I made along the way on the NC500

As I returned to the car I noticed it had started snowing. Super! Messages on Facebook were veritable portents of doom, with people claiming I’d get no further than the snow gates and have to turn back. Naturally, as a born fretter, I had to spend another twenty minutes checking the roads ahead were clear, but this worked in my favour as just as I was rejoining the road I spotted, quite possibly, the most handsome man I’ve ever seen filling up his car with petrol. I’m not ashamed to tell you that I daintily and calmly spun the car a full 180 degrees just so I could go back and gawp. This blog may do me the disservice of painting me as a permanently frisky, leering pest but I assure you that I’m not normally so coltish: perhaps it was the mountain air? But he was stunning, he truly was. Imagine a Viking, but not one of these modern sorts who grow a beard and think they’re sailing the Gokstad via a penny-farthing-repair-shop. He looked as though he’d dropped straight through a wormhole in time and I was utterly smitten. As he drove away I knew that my life would never again feel complete. But still we press on. Turns out the snow was a load of nothing, incidentally – the road was clear all the way to Inverness, with the sun shining bright for most of the journey.

A couple of other notable stops – I stopped at the Ralia Cafe a little further up for a break and the best spiced dahl I’ve ever had in my life, before buying some trinkets from their gift shop. Then, conscious of the fact I hadn’t managed to fill the car since leaving Edinburgh, I pulled into a petrol station a little further up. I stood at the petrol pump, nozzle in the car, and waited for them to turn the pump on. And waited. And waited. I’m not sure if they thought I was standing there simply to soak in the sights of their Londis shop, but despite making eye contact across the forecourt, nothing was forthcoming. I had to replace the nozzle and drive off, a trifle bemused, but let that be another reminder: fill up when you can, lest you find yourself short in a petrol station where the flow of fuel is treated as an optional extra. I pressed on, spotted a sign for the Highland Wildlife Centre, and decided on a whim to go and visit.

Forgive the food shot, but honestly, this was delicious. If you need a stop on your way to the NC500, give Ralia Cafe a go!

I was pulling in when a good friend of mine decided to call for a catch-up. Reception in the Highlands is very spotty and he had been trying to catch me all day, so when he finally got through to tell me his stories, he was full of vim. So full of vim indeed that he decided that, as I was pulling over to talk to the parking attendant, he would start yelling across my car speakers that he was trapped in my boot and could someone please send help as a matter of urgency. I tried to style it out by muting him, but instead managed to switch the audio to my Spotify which immediately started blaring Abba at the poor bemused bloke who was trying to direct me to the ticket office. Given I was possibly the first customer of the year I’m sure he’ll remember me.

As for the Highland Wildlife Centre – it was certainly interesting, but had I known it was a zoo (not sure what I was expecting to be fair) I wouldn’t have gone. The animals are clearly well-looked after and the staff were endlessly cheerful, but there’s something awfully depressing about seeing a polar bear scratching around on a Scottish hillside. Not for me, though I know that they do some incredible conservation work – that’s one for you to square.

They did have gorgeous Scottish wildcats though, which they are breeding ahead of releasing them back into the wildcat. Sola could still chin them though.

View of the Cairngorns

Mountains everywhere, and we aren’t even on the NC500 yet!

The rest of the afternoon was spent making my way to my accommodation for the night and after many stops to get out of my car, put my hands on my hips and say ‘oooh but isn’t it lovely’, I arrived at the Macdonald Drumossie Hotel, which you can take a look at here. It’s perched up on a hill above Inverness and looked really quite something on the photos. Knowing I would be back in Inverness in so many days, the plan was to eat dinner there and get my head down early. I was checked in by a very breezy and efficient receptionist and given a room on the third floor, which is always fun when you’re carrying eight years worth of luggage with you. The hotel itself was perfectly fine, even if it did have a touch of the Overlook about it. I was pressed to make a dinner reservation as it was ‘very busy’. I deferred this invitation, thinking I could pop down a little later (and then promptly fell asleep, missing dinner entirely) – but here’s the thing. From the end of that conversation to me departing the next morning, I didn’t see a single soul. It’s like she checked me in and then went home for the day. Despite wandering around the grounds, popping out to Inverness to pick up supplies, nipping out for smoke breaks, there was no-one else there. It was genuinely unsettling – walking through a seemingly abandoned hotel at midnight isn’t good for the nerves. The room was very ‘old school hotel’ – very comfortable, but nothing which would indicate it was 2021. I didn’t mind: I enjoyed a tiny bath, threw my clothes everywhere and spent a happy minute or two dismantling the kettle.

Before I finish, can we take a moment to agree that hotels who use the room key to keep the lights on need a telling off? Every time I left the room I was required to take my key, a proper old fashioned key with a heavy tag so you didn’t lose it, which immediately plunged the room into darkness. This wouldn’t have been so bad had the corridors outside been lit up, but seemingly they had forgotten to pay the electricity bill because I left the room into more pitch black mystery. It was very much an adventure trying to make my way to the lift with only the tiniest of emergency lighting strips to guide the way, I can tell you. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for a fumble in a dark corridor on holiday, but I’ve normally on my knees through choice in that situation. After a final adventure outside, I returned to my room, popped Question Time on, realised our local Conservative MP was on there flapping her bewhiskered jowls about, realised I didn’t need more anguish in my life, and went to sleep.

That’s a good place to leave it, I feel. The NC500 starts properly in the next entry! I’m terribly conscious of the fact I’ve prattled on ever so, but I love having a story to tell, and this is a great outlet for my writing. Again, would love to hear your thoughts! Regular readers, food recipes are coming back this week, I promise!

Stay safe, all.

J

driving the NC500: prelude

This is a very special episode of twochubbycubs. 

In a break from the regular blogging (when did that start?) I am going to walk you through my recent adventures around the North Coast 500. Honestly, a man gets tired of finding new and exciting ways to make a kilo of mince interesting, and sometimes it is all you can do to strike out on your own. So, settle back in your comfy chair, slip your Compeed pads off your trotters and listen to me gab in your ear about my travels. Recipes are due to restart this week, but you know, I just want to write.

First, what is the North Coast 500? Ah that’s easy, it’s 288 miles of road going around Cornwall. Can you imagine? We went to Cornwall once – even visited Lands End, don’t you remember – and it was pleasant enough, but it wasn’t Scotland. That’s what drew me to the North Coast 500 (NC500 going forward) – it’s a 500 mile or so circular trip around the top of Scotland, starting and ending in Inverness. It takes you around some utterly breath-taking places and is considered to be one of the most scenic drives in the world. You can do it as quick as you like – some people spread it over three to five days, some take a fortnight – you do you. There’s a whole bank of B&Bs, campsites, hotels, yurts, shepherd huts, caravans and wild camping opportunities to make the most of. It’s beautifully romantic and perfect for couples.

So, naturally, I left Paul behind. Which sounds awful until I explain the timeline of this whole trip. I read an article about the NC500 on Monday. By Thursday, I was on the road. I am lucky enough to have a job which allows me to work flexible hours and a boss who is an absolute delight. Paul on the other hand needs to be around at certain times so alas, couldn’t join me. I did think about postponing it but he was very keen for me to go away. Presumably so he can piss on the toilet seat himself, I don’t know. Either way, we agreed that I could go off gallivanting by myself (he stressed that bit unusually loudly, not sure why) and he would stay and make sure the cats didn’t torch the house. He’s a good egg.

Actually, let me expand on that. He really is, and I am uniformly rotten to him on here and our social media, but how many husbands cheerfully go into work every single day to allow their partner to go carousing around the NC500 on a moment’s notice? He jokes that he’s glad of the peace and I’m sure he is, but I do know his day doesn’t sparkle without me around to moan about him not making my tea quick enough. He would do anything for me and expects nothing back. So, to Paul: thank you. I’m sorry I call you names on here, but you really mustn’t make it so easy. But thank you, I love you really, there’s a reason why we’re approaching fifteen years together and it isn’t just because I’m excited for a crystal anniversary gift.

Bleurgh, enough schmaltz. So there I am, with a week or so ahead of me with nothing planned. No accommodation booked, no trip route mapped out, no places to visit. If you research NC500 you are told in no uncertain terms that you must book your accommodation well in advance because everything is always snaffled up super quick. However, I don’t like being told what to do: if a fireman shouted at me to jump out of a burning building, I’d stay in and burn rather than respond to his curt tone. You might call that being contrary, but if you did I’d tell you to fuck off.

Two things in my favour though: Scotland had just opened up from its latest lockdown AND I have flexibility, no kids, pink pound and a sassy sense of doing as I please on my side. So planning was easy – choose a few places to stay, drive no more than 100 miles a day – and stop whenever I fancied on the way. Piece of piss.

However – I do not encourage this. This, unless you’re very lucky, will not work with you on the NC500. Places do get booked up very quickly and no more so than ever than these days when people are reluctant to travel abroad. I used hotels.com, AirBnB and the North Coast 500 website to decide where to go. Do your research!

Hark at me getting the red pen of death out. At some point, I’ll circle back onto these blog posts and add a fancy banner and a map, but now, all you need to know is that come Thursday, I was anxiously wondering how I could terminate a work phone call without it looking terrifically obvious I had somewhere to be, had thrown two suitcases full of garish clothes into my car and emptied Paul’s testicles before he set out for work. You must understand that he walks funny if you don’t: he’s like the boiler from The Shining, and not just because he leaks rusty water after you tinker with his valve. I had originally planned to drive up to Inverness that day (the NC500 both begins and ends in Inverness, as you would perhaps expect a circular drive to do so) but it was kicking into the afternoon before I was likely to get away, so I went onto AirBnB and selected a reasonably central apartment (their words, not mine) in Edinburgh which boasted floor to ceiling views of the city. Well, who could resist the opportunity to introduce oneself to Scotland that bending down naked to pick up my socks and showing off my bumhole to Edinburgh would afford? Not I. £89 for one night and the promise of chocolates left all over the place to snaffle. Deal. You can take a look here.

With one last kiss for the cats and eighty-seven checks of the house to make sure I hadn’t accidentally left a chip pan smouldering in a drawer or set the bathroom tiles on fire, I was ready to go – after a twenty minute goodbye conversation with one of three good sets of neighbours we have, of course. The others didn’t say a word, merely stared owlishly from their windows, lost in their internal angst over who may get my parking space. I gave them a cheery two-fingered wave as I clattered out of the street, and was on the road.

Well, in theory. The drive from where I live up into Edinburgh is an easy 115 miles straight up the A1 and, taking into account my need to stop and empty the crisp packets from the passenger seat once and a while, I was hopeful to arrive for about 5pm, which would give me more than enough time to fuss all the cushions, decant their toiletries into my suitcase and stare wistfully over to Arthur’s Seat. However, I managed to get four miles up the road before realising that I’d left my work laptop at home. As I said, work were being incredibly supportive of my whim – they always are – but even they would probably suck their teeth at me going off-grid for a fortnight without so much as a promise that I’d bring back some shortbread. Work essentials reacquired, and a few moments of pause where I double-checked I hadn’t absent-mindedly plugged the Instant Pot in and filled it with fireworks, I really was off.

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 Destination: somewhere North of here

The original plan was simply to shoot straight up the A1, but here’s the thing – it’s a terribly boring drive for the most part and one that I do almost every month. I considered taking the A68 up through Jedburgh which offers far better views and a chance to pose by the England/Scotland border rocks. One of our most treasured photos of each other is us standing there, Paul with chocolate on his face and me with a full-on erection that I’m trying desperately to hide under my hoodie. We were young, in love and full of the giddy spontaneity that being together for fifteen years knocks straight out of you. Deciding that I couldn’t re-enact that picture on my own without ending up on a register, I instead chose to drive up to Wooler and cut over to the A1. Besides, the road would take me near a bookshop that I’d been meaning to visit for a while, and frankly, after twenty minutes of driving, I needed to rest.

Mindful of the fact I didn’t want to deviate without good cause, I rang ahead to the bookshop to enquire whether or not they had the particular book I wanted in stock. After enough time passed to make me wonder whether he had gone to print a fresh copy for me, the chap came back and excitingly told me that they did indeed have the book and I could pop along at my earliest opportunity to pick it up. Excellent! The only books I had bought for this trip was a Stephen King novella, a book about how to deal with psychopathic behaviour and a book all about how to survive in prison, none of which exactly lent themselves to reading comfortably in a restaurant by myself without the chef locking away the knives ‘just in case’. After twenty minutes or so of staring at the back of a logging lorry and twenty minutes of swearing at the driver, I pulled into the bookshop to pick up my book. It would be a matter of moments, surely?

No. Having introduced myself as the bloke who had called twenty minutes ago, the chap behind the counter denied having put the book aside, or indeed, having the book at all. I explained that we had talked on the phone only minutes earlier, an act which he also seemed incredibly surprised by. So surprised in fact that he doubled down on his denial and instead chose to tell me we hadn’t talked on the phone at all. I can’t deny I wasn’t hurt: I have a voice that lights up a room, albeit because most people rise to their feet and start looking for the exit, and I thought our telephone tête-à-tête had been full of gay laughter and memorable exchange. I was insistent that I hadn’t had a mild psychotic break and that I had absolutely spoken to him – I recognised the way his nose whistled when he was thinking – but his pained face told me not to explore the topic any further and I left, book-less and almost an hour behind schedule. I may have accidentally knocked a plant-pot off his windowsill as I departed. I was off to an excellent start with my mission to charm all I came across.

Speaking of those I’ve come across previously, heading into Edinburgh was a veritable storm of salacious offers, filthy messages and photos that aren’t nice to talk about. See, the last time I was in Edinburgh properly was for Bearscots, which is a fabulous event where every gay man who has a credit account with Jacamo goes to gawp at others just like him. This was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID which I think we can all agree was the cruellest consequence of the pandemic. Paul and I had a merry old time there when we went, not least because I got to wear a leather kilt and have people coo at my back hair. That’s understandable, it is magnificent: I look like a wet ham joint that rolled behind the cooker. I’ve kept in touch with lots of people I met there and when I mentioned I was going up, my phone went off like a widow’s marital aid. However: this was to be a holiday all to my own, and I mostly keep my hand on my ha’penny these days, so I politely declined the lot. Mind, I hadn’t realised at that point exactly how long I’d be away from Paul’s church-bell-ringing touch, so perhaps I’d been a little hasty. Live and learn.

That point about the ‘on my own’, though. I confess something to you now – for the days before I left I was incredibly anxious about striking out on my own. I’ve been with Paul for almost fifteen years now and haven’t spent much time away from his heaving busom, and for those rare occasions I do, I usually have something else to distract me, like work. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy my own company, though: I’ve always been a fairly independent person and, growing up in the country, used to making my own fun. But regular readers also know I suffer with two tendencies which would play on my mind: health anxiety and endless catastrophising. Unless I keep on top of both, I can find myself lost in lurid scenarios where my heart bursts from mild exercise or I knock my head getting out of the car and Judy Mallett my way off the face of the Earth. Anchored to my usual safety measures – Paul, the cats, even twochubbycubs to some extent – I’m fine, because they serve as distractions. But me, alone, with just my thoughts and all the Billie Eilish songs I could muster? Could be a different story. That said, a couple of years ago I made the decision to do anything I was scared of should the opportunity arise because frankly, the alternative is never living. Far better to try something and fail than sit at home and wonder what if. Which, in my case, usually goes ‘what if that fluttering eyelid is actually a brain stem tumour, James – what if?’ More on that later.

Finding the apartment was no trouble at all, but finding somewhere to bloody park was. The listing had reassured me that parking would be a doddle with plenty of free parking space outside, but this simply wasn’t the case, with yellow lines everywhere. I drove up and down that cobbled street so many times that I almost brought myself to orgasm. I did sit and wait whilst an elderly couple fussed and struggled into their car in the vain hope that they were about to free up a parking space, but they were clearly one of those pairings who drive somewhere, take out their egg sandwiches and sit enjoying the view over their dashboard until the sweet caress of death takes them away. There was one other space – a tight little parallel park job between cars whose owners had clearly parked up with blindfolds on – and I thanked the good people at VW for installing park assist on my new car. However, I was so delayed trying to figure out how it worked that by the time I had started backing into the space, an Uber Eats driver had shot into the space before me and missed my back bumper by a whisker.

Words were exchanged, and fiery ones at that. He pointed out my lack of indicating, I enquired whether he thought I was sitting in the middle of the road to rest my clutch. Luckily, in his haste to criticise my driving skills, he forgot to monitor his own and ever so gently, but oh so delightfully, reversed into the car behind. I bade him a cheery goodbye at that point, and you must understand that my smirk at his misfortune was entirely accidental, and drove off a little further down the street, noticing that I could park on the single yellow lines as long as I was out of the apartment by 8am. As I planned to get on the road first thing this wasn’t an insurmountable problem so I left my car, waited for the angry Uber driver to disappear over the horizon, cursed the fact I had packed so much, and made my way to the apartment.

Can’t complain about anything – I even managed to take the best photo I’ve taken of myself in years in the lift on the way up too. It’s the little things.

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Unapologetically slutty.

The apartment was spotlessly clean, was equipped with everything you could need and they had indeed left Lindt chocolate everywhere, though this did give me a moment of panic that I wouldn’t spot one in the bed, sleep on it and leave it looking like I’d performed a dirty protest in the night. Which was silly in retrospect, because I’d always just use the towels for that. I have to say, I love staying in an AirBNB – for the most part, they’re so much more homely than a hotel and full of nods and winks to the owners’ personalities. For example, this one was full of charming little tchotchkes that even I liked, which is quite something as I’d happily live in the white room that Betina and Max created in Absolutely Fabulous if I could. However, due to the fact you are rated as a guest, there is a pressure to leave the place looking absolutely spotless lest your AirBNB profile is ruined by ‘left a skidder like a landslide on the toilet pan’ or something equally distasteful. I like to try and leave it exactly how I found it so it almost looks like no guest has been it at all, though the fetid combination of my shoes and flatus always give the game away.

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There was the small matter of the creepy haunted doll that would slash my throat if I blinked.

I decided to try and have an early night given I had a long drive to Inverness to start the NC500 in the morning (not actually that long, but there’s so many places to stop on the way) but stepped out for an evening walk in the hope I’d tip my calories back into a deficit. Edinburgh in the early evening just reminds me how much I want to live there (well, no, I want to live in Glasgow, it’s like Edinburgh but you do seem less likely to be accosted by chinless gap-yah students trying to pull you to see their two-person eight-hour comedy act on the Richmond Bread Riots). I did a little bit of shopping, then decided to head back for the night, keen to get away in the morning before everyone else and, most importantly, before the traffic warden had a chance to do his worst. I had the first of many disappointing showers on this holiday then retired to a bed that felt slightly unusual, not least because I wasn’t being gently tipped to a snoring, farting hippo by the cruel force of gravity.

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Adventure beyond.

That seems like an excellent place to leave it. I hope this gives you an idea as to how these trip reports are going to be – you’ll get about 300 words of useful content and the remainder will be me waffling on about absolutely nothing. But: I’ve got some tales to tell, and we’re off! Part two soon. Would always love your feedback!

J