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Tailgating & Tom Petty

Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

I don’t know about you, but during my childhood, eating before an outdoor event involved a cheese and pickle sandwich, munched on in near silence inside the family car with unrelenting rain cascading down the windows.

In the States, it’s very different. They have actual long hot summers, the jammy sods! Last week, I experienced my first American tailgate at a Tom Petty show.

Forget baseball games. The tailgate is the quintessential American experience. It’s a sort of makeshift camp involving parking along side friends, lighting up barbecues and imbibing pre-event beer. A very convivial atmosphere abounds that shows American friendliness off to its best advantage. Don’t have a beer? – have one of ours. Hey man, you like TP, I like TP – come and eat some brats.

BBQ at our tailgate.

BBQ at our tailgate.

 Although the tailgate is a staple of America’s summer culture, it has remained dormant in the foreign consciousness. For unknown reasons, it hasn’t crept into Hollywood films until fairly recently. But Silver Linings Playbook and How I Met Your Mother have included tailgate scenes if you want to get a visual.

We ended up tailgating with the head brewer at Short’s Microbrewery: a brewer in the vicinity is guaranteed to be the most popular man in the room around here – next to Tom Petty.

I don’t think Tom Petty is as big a deal back in the UK but over here he is revered, retaining a cross generational appeal. Just look at this clip from the 2008 Superbowl.

Quite strange really; mention TP to an American guy, and they either go ‘F*%$ Yeah, Tom Petty!’ (young men), or a fond smile steeped in nostalgia sweeps across their faces (baby boomer men), and at one point during the concert, a young woman leaned over to me and said ‘I know he’s really old, but I’d still totally tap that!’ Disagree on whatever you wish but Tom Petty is probably America’s best bet at achieving world peace. I suspect it has something to do with weed.

As we pulled into the car park at Pine Knob ski hill, the air was thick with the stuff. The irony of our location was not lost as we drove past countless fifty/sixty-somethings cranking up the car stereos and partaking of the ’erb (somewhere, a 20-something graduate is going without a house down payment). As the designated driver, I could tell this was going to be a long night.

Ugh: Tall people.

Ugh: Tall people.

 It seemed our group had enjoyed the tailgate a little too much. By the time we had climbed the steep steps to the top of the hill it was packed. We set our rugs down right at the top of the hill and the warm up act, Steve Winwood (yes, he of the ‘Valerieeeeeeeeee – call me’ dirty aerobics video that was always playing at Pure Gym on Broad Street) was a minute spec at the bottom, our view blocked by a shifting array of tall people and their Amazonian girlfriends who never pass up the opportunity to sit on their boyfriends’ shoulders.

Galling! The sound wasn’t up to much from our alpine perch, and eventually half of us descended the hill in search of better acoustics (and beer). The difference was immediate; suddenly Tom Petty was at least a centimetre bigger and I could hear the lyrics – something about Mary Jane? Ahhhhhh. We took advantage of this position until the penultimate song, scrambling up the hill to be reunited for ‘American Girl.’

Ah, that's better: closer to the music.

Ah, that’s better: closer to the music.

 The Aftermath: I was keen to vomit – the contact buzz from thousands of politely shared joints was finally overwhelming me. Rubbish littered the site like a last minute Glastonbury. Last night (Kiss) was sold out too – how do the staff clean up so quickly? The stairs were rammed – a bottleneck caused by someone vomiting down the steps. A boy on crutches decided to bypass this by swinging himself down the ski hill. The inevitable happened – crash, bang, thud – looked like the good leg caught it this time. It turns out that no matter what country you’re in, binge drinking will turn us into arseholes.

I started driving back to settle my stomach. My husband reclined, dozily in the passenger seat.

‘Now that baby,’ he slurred, complete with nostalgic smile, ‘was the real America!’

Into the Polar Vortex

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polar votex

So I arrived between ice blasts. I’m now 4000 miles from Birmingham with no Green Card (it’s on it’s way), no job, no driving license (and no car, so it hardly matters), and no home until next Friday. I’m not quite as ill-prepared as Christopher McCandless  but the Polar Vortex that has been engulfing the States this year has been a learning curve for the ten days I’ve been here.

IT’S SO COLD THAT…

  • You can throw a pot of boiling water into the air outside and create instant snow.
  • Many people have been hurt doing this – they didn’t check which direction the wind was blowing.
  • Whenever I stepped outside the first week, I’d say ‘Look! Fresh snow!’ with a sense of joy and wonder. Now, I say ‘Look… fresh snow’ with a growing sense of resentment at the inevitable daily car-scraping.
  • You can’t do that trick where you pour warm water over the car windscreen here – it just freezes. Engine on and scraper-brush out. Here is where you start paying. In sweat.
  • I now understand why there are so many massive gas-guzzling 4x4s over here – the weather is VERY cold every year, the terrain is harsh, and the people are determined to carry on as normal. You will not find any ‘leaves on the train line’ type excuses over here.
  • I will never consider leather a legitimate upholstery choice for my car again.
  • I have learned to click my heels like Dorothy Gale before stepping into any car – and yes, I do find myself thinking: ‘there’s no place like home…’
  • Conversations and general breathing in our car results in so much vapour that I think I’m in Cold War Vienna.
  • When taken out on a date by my husband, he wrapped me up so I looked like Randy from A Christmas Story. It wasn’t even Halloween.
  • It is considered the height of bad manners here in Michigan to enter a house with out removing your shoes.
  • The forced air system at our friend’s house where we are currently staying, dries out all the moisture from the air, which means I’ve had a 2-week nose bleed. Coupled with the flu, I look like Andrew WK (remember him children?). I bled into my cup of tea. It was gross.
  • I coughed up blood last week. Blood and mucus.
  • I’ve been told that to avoid winter nose-bleeds, everyone around here sleeps with vapourisers by their beds. Duly noted.
Yeah, 2001 was a good look for me.

Yeah, 2001 was a good look for me.

  • There is only so much chicken soup that one girl can take.
  • I have eaten all my Tastes-Of-Home tuck supplies. Yes, that includes a huuuuge bar of Cadbury’s wholenut.
  • I don’t go out. I just wait at home like a house-cat, awaiting my owner’s return. The term house-wife has taken on a new harder edge for me.
  • I have started to read a lot more Sylvia Plath.
Stay tuned for further details of my unravelling...

Stay tuned for further details of my unravelling…

Apologies About Peaky Blinders Episode Six

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Jason Statham has previously worked with Steven Knight. Will he feature in series 2? Image: wiki commons

Jason Statham has previously worked with Steven Knight. Will he feature in series 2? Image: wiki commons

So I’ve been asked by a few people why I never posted on the final episode of Peaky Blinders…well this is a little embarrassing but I didn’t get to see the end! I had to leave halfway through the episode to pick my husband up from the train station and by the time I logged on to the BBC iPlayer to  get my Shelby fix, it had been taken off. Couldn’t find it on YouTube or the like either. So I didn’t get to wrap up my little series of posts and I’m sorry to all of you who have enjoyed reading about ‘urquharts’ and Freddie the Horny Bolshevik. I will (hopefully) be back on it when series 2 arrives next year.

Writer Steven Knight has previously worked with Tom Hardy and Jason Statham and says he would be keen to bring them on board for PB2. Given that Statham has found fame playing The Transporter, The Mechanic and one of The Expendables,  it’s likely he will assume the role of The Butcher, The Baker or The Candlestick Maker.

Tom Hardy is already rocking a Peaky Blinders Urquhart.

Tom Hardy is already rocking a Peaky Blinders Urquhart. Image Wiki Commons

What did you think of Peaky Blinders in the end? Good, Bad, Ugly? Will you be watching season two, and if so what do you hope will happen in our favorite Brummie saga?

Everything you ever wanted to know about Peaky Blinders (but were too lazy to Google)

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clapperboard-146180_640

Since I started a gently humorous series of posts on the Birmingham-set BBC drama Peaky Blinders, I have found all sorts of interesting search engine terms and questions cropping up on my stats. I thought it only fair to try and answer as many as I could. Here goes:

1)      What is the theme tune? Who sings it?

Oh good, an easy one to start with. It’s a song called Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Being a teenager in the 90s helped here. Nick Cave is great and he also adapted a book about the prohibition to make the film Lawless that was out earlier this year. Red Right Hand was also featured in the first Scream film, back in the day.

2)      Why is the show called Peaky Blinders?

If you’ve seen it, you’ll probably know; the gang takes its name from the razor blades sewn into the peaks of members’ flat caps/ baker boy caps that can be quickly whipped off during fights to slash with or left on for head-butting to maximum effect. But it turns out this wasn’t so unusual. Fun Fact: My grandfather (an East Midlands lad) grew up in the 1920s and said that razor blades were secreted in all manner of garments for fighting purposes. During Rugby scrums, players would brutally scrape their boots down the opposition’s shins having pushed extra drawing pins or tacks through the soles. When he was in the Royal Engineers during WW2, some privates used to attach a string of razor blades to the decorative ribbon inside their regimental caps, and flick it across faces during fights. It wasn’t a major weapon but did give the unlucky recipient a decent duelling scar. Granddad once got the cane at school for attaching a pin to a stick and jabbing it up girls’ skirts – I have to add he was only six at the time and went on to be a lovely man but what a little shit he must have been as a child!

Some of the real Peaky Blinders in the book Gangs of Birmingham. Image: digbeth.org

Some of the real Peaky Blinders in the book Gangs of Birmingham. Image: digbeth.org

The best book about this place/time is The Gangs of Birmingham by Phillip Gooderson.

3)      Where is the Black Swan pub?

Difficult one this. Try as I might, I can’t find a historical record of this pub in Sparkbrook. Fact: pubs in the UK come and go like beer through a tap over the years so maybe there was once a Black Swan, maybe there wasn’t. But there is a White Swan that remains in nearby Deritend, and maybe that inspired the writer Steven Knight.  It does look like a very atmospheric place doesn’t it?

The White Swan on Bradford Street. Photo from beerintheevening.com

The White Swan on Bradford Street. Photo from beerintheevening.com

4)      Where is the art gallery?

It is not the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery I’m afraid (if you get the opportunity though, do go, because it is great). The exterior shots are Leeds Town Hall. The pink hall full of sculptures where C.I. Campbell and Grace exchange information is Newby Hall and Gardens in Ripon, Yorkshire.

5)      Where were the street scenes filmed?

According to Creative England, these were filmed in Liverpool, specifically Powis Street in Toxteth, which was transformed into the Small Heath neighbourhood, Little Italy and Watery Lane. Liverpool’s Stanley Dock doubled as Birmingham’s Garrison Lane. BBC location scouts allegedly found that not enough of pre-war Brum had survived intact to serve as viable filming locations – which I disagree with. I think they wanted the locations to be closer to the Beeb at Salford, and that with a US target audience, viewers wouldn’t notice it wasn’t the real Birmingham on film. There is a heck of a lot of pre-war Brum left, go explore. Might have to have a separate rant about this one.

Powis Street on a normal day: Powis Street is one of the Welsh Streets in Toxteth. The area is undergoing regeneration.

Powis Street on a normal day: Powis Street is one of the Welsh Streets in Toxteth. The area is undergoing regeneration.

But with some period styling and a little CGI it is transformed into 1919 Small Heath

But with some period styling and a little CGI it is transformed into 1919 Small Heath. Image: http://www.rushes.co.uk

6)      Which train station is used?

These scenes are filmed at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, which runs through the Yorkshire countryside and is used in many period shoots, most famously the 1970 version of The Railway Children.

7)      Where did the gypsies live?

Gypsies living on Black Patch. Photo: Wiki Commons

Gypsies living on Black Patch. Photo: Wiki Commons

Hmmmm, the Lees were not real. But there were undoubtedly real gypsy settlements during the time of the Peaky Blinders (which was from the 1880s onwards). Most notably, the park area known as the Black Patch in Smethwick was a gypsy camp ground until the Birmingham Corporation Parks Commission imposed a peaceful eviction on the land in 1909. Until a few years before, Esau Smith was acknowledged as the gypsy king of Black Patch, having a verbal agreement to squatters’ rights for the travellers there. Upon his death in 1901, his wife Henty became the queen. She allegedly put a curse on anyone who tried to build on the area and this curse inspired folk singer Bryn Phillips to write ‘The Ballad of Black Patch’. The squatters’ rights ended with Henty’s death in 1907 and the ritual burning of her caravan.

8)      What language do the Lee family speak?

I’m fairly sure it’s Romani. Although the Lee family are depicted with various accents (mostly Irish), they are also using Romany caravans. Irish travellers typically speak in a dialect called Shelta, which is classed as a Creole and also known as the Cant, Tinker’s Cant, Bog Latin, the Ould Thing and Gammon. But listening to the conversations in PB, words such as ‘familia’ can be isolated which appear in the Romany dialect but not in Shelta.

One day son, none of this will be yours: a toss-up precedes an inevitable fight/deal/marriage.

One day son, none of this will be yours: a toss-up precedes an inevitable fight/deal/marriage.

9)      Is Tommy Shelby a gypsy?

He doesn’t live a travelling lifestyle, but his mother came from gypsy stock, probably part of the Lee family.

10)   Why are the accents so weird?

This one has caused a lot of annoyance to Brummies and other viewers alike. Many point the finger at the producers who are aiming at the US market and don’t think viewers over the pond will be able to understand the regional dialects or accents. To be fair, I heard that subtitles were used in some US broadcasts of Downton Abbey (but don’t quote me on that) and that Laura Linney was drafted in to explain basic concepts of the British master-servant dynamic before each episode.

The most alarming accent change is that of Billy Kimber, a gangster Birmingham born and bred who has been transformed into a Cockney wide boy for some reason. If it was necessary to have an East End gangster character, wouldn’t it have been simpler to name-check a gambler from the period?

However, according to Helen McCrory (who plays Aunt Polly – Queen of Darkness): “Our accents are 20s Birmingham, you see, and I’d just like to say that now. If anyone’s listening to my accent and thinking it’s a crap Birmingham accent, it’s not, it’s spot on. And I challenge any octogenarian Brummie to contradict me in that.” (Birmingham Mail).

She also told the Daily Mail: ‘I sat and watched endless clips of Ozzy Osbourne. My character’s obviously Ozzy in a skirt.’

Aunt Polly will deck you if you mention her accent.

Aunt Polly will deck you if you mention her accent.

I don’t think Helen’s accent is that bad, although it does seem to lapse into a Scouse ‘O’ vowel, but consistently so maybe that’s part of the historical accent change, who knows. Cillian Murphy (whose Brummie accent is undoubtedly more Scouse) is said to have spent time in Birmingham’s pubs listening to the local accent. I think it’s a little strange that most of this series was filmed in Liverpool and that some of the accents have a Scouse lilt to them…However Paul Anderson (who plays Arthur) and Alfie Evans-Meese (who plays little Finn) have got the accent spot-on in my opinion. Maybe we just need more Brum-based film and TV to make people acquainted with the authentic accent.

I think that covers the main stuff, if there is anything else you want to know, I’m happy to do a spot of research. I can definitely write more on this topic. What do you think of Peaky Blinders so far? Good? Bad? Ugly? Let us know…

Review: Black Sabbath @ The Electric Cinema

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blood wall

Now before you start bombarding me with pedantic troll comments, I’m talking about Black Sabbath the 1963 Italian horror anthology film, not Black Sabbath the Birmingham band. Got it? Really got it? Good.

So I went to the last showing of Black Sabbath as part of the Electric Cinema’s Shock and Gore festival yesterday. I took along my film-buff brother, and a friend of my husband’s who I think was left wondering about the cinematic tastes of my family. And so he should haha.

Not for me the torture-porn films so beloved of modern day horror fans. I was looking for a schlocky, Technicolor hoke-fest full of organ music and clashing discordant brass instruments in the score. Black Sabbath did not disappoint.

Setting the scene:

The Electric does a great job decorating for Shock and Gore. On the mirror leading to the upstairs theatre were written quotes from Saw, Hellraiser, The Shining and many more. Fun Fact: In the late 1990s when my brother was ten, we went trick or treating and he dressed as a pint-sized Pinhead from Hellraiser, using my mum’s hair pins and a white swimming cap).

Yo ho ho and a bottle of blood.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of blood.

Upstairs were neat little Rorschach butterflies (for the Silence of the Lambs showing tonight), anatomic sketches of eyeballs (for the Evil Dead double bill), broken wax dolls, bottles of blood and a veeeeerrry creepy sort-of human (but with a tail and flippers) voodoo baby in an antique pram. I was cooing over the unfortunate infant when one of the staff came over.

‘It moves, you know,’ he said. And flipping the baby on its back, he flicked a switch which immediately sent the tot into gurgling convulsions. Awesome.

The guy smirked, hoping he had sufficiently scared me.

‘Aw. I want one…if Kate can have one, so can I!’ I cried out petulantly. The staff member backed away with a disturbed expression. Never underestimate the power of a woman demanding a voodoo baby (or any baby) to freak a bloke out!

  He gave me the card for Tom Ellis who was responsible of this awful little creation. I recognised him from the Curious Oddities shop front in the Great Western Arcade.

Voodoo Child: Tom Ellis' mechanical demon baby.

Voodoo Child: Tom Ellis’ mechanical demon baby.

The unluckiest cupcake in the world:

Regular readers of Brummed Out will know I have a slight obsession with cupcakes, so I couldn’t resist this gory little  number:

The ill-fated cupcake in its former glory

The ill-fated cupcake in its former glory

I took it upstairs with my G&T and after sucking up the licorice ‘entrails’ I put it down on the step next to me (the cinema was pretty much empty). Then two horrific things happened:

1)      I accidentally stepped on it. Just a little. I decided to eat the other half due to the one second rule.

2)      A lady with a seeing-eye dog came in. The dog took one look at that blameless little cake and swallowed it whole!

 ‘He’s had the whole bloody thing!’ I cried as if alerting the cinema to a murder. I had to laugh. I think this is fate’s way of getting me to stick to my diet.

 The film itself:  

Someone's gettin' a cursed: broken wax dollies upstairs at The Electric.

Someone’s gettin’ a cursed: broken wax dollies upstairs at The Electric.

I recovered enough to settle into the film, which starred Boris Karloff and Mark Damon (sorry if you just clicked on the link – I couldn’t resist – no, I don’t know who Mark Damon is either). I knew going in that we were being shown the version of Black Sabbath that Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler would have seen as hormone-laden teenagers. This would be the US version, complete with bad dubbing, heavily edited stories (there are three stories in the anthology) and less shots of Boris linking the stories.

It really showed.

Black Sabbath poster with the original Italian title The Three Faces of Fear

Black Sabbath poster with the original Italian title The Three Faces of Fear

Having come home and read up on the original version shown in Italy, you could see a ton of plot holes and mistakes in the editing. For instance the running order of the stories is wrong. The scariest story was shown first and the least scary shown last (this was the opposite in the Italian original). Having said that, the beginning story alone is scary enough to recommend this film. If you’ve ever been freaked out by being in the proximity of a corpse (well why wouldn’t you) be prepared to revisit a nasty place.

The dog added accompanying smellorama by farting out my cupcake, just to rub it in.

The middle story ‘The Telephone’ seemed to be about a girl being stalked by a dead lover who she’d turned in to the police. She rings up his ex to come over and protect her (instead of leaving the flat, obviously) and then he kills the other girl and she stabs him. It was crap but my companions enjoyed watching a beautiful woman running around in a see-through nightie.

Rosy the call-girl getting freaked out by one of her many stalkers.

Rosy the call-girl getting freaked out by one of her many stalkers.

Now I read the original synopsis on good old Wikipedia and it says this story was heavily edited for America. The original left out the supernatural element resulting in a more standard Italian Giallo thriller. The girl was meant to be a high-class hooker who had turned in her pimp and was being harassed by her former lesbian lover pretending to be the pimp on the telephone (huh?) who was then killed by the escaped pimp who, in turn was stabbed by the hot hooker. Make sense? Nope, I didn’t think so.

Anyway, I doubt this mattered to Ozzy and co who were probably too stoned to care and were just grateful to have come out of the experience with a good band name.

Buffalo Bill wants his suit back!

Buffalo Bill wants his suit back!

Downstairs in the lobby, the voodoo baby had been moved to pride of place by the front door and was gurgling away, happy as Larry. Awwwww. There was also a fabulous cake version of the lady-skin dress that Buffalo Bill was making in The Silence of the Lambs, courtesy of Annabel de Vetten at Conjurer’s Kitchen. I want her to make my next birthday cake! And off we went to discuss how gorgeous those Italian birds were over drinks at The Victoria. I’ll be back next year – hopefully I get to the all-nighter one of these days.

But until then…

Please, pretty please Shock & Gore, could you show the Italian version of Black Sabbath at next year’s festival? For artistic integrity?

In Praise of Birmingham’s Markets

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Image

I’ve been spending every other weekend in London of late (the husband has moved there for work) and as a cash-strapped bucket-list, I’ve made it my mission to visit all of London’s most favorite market places, just to soak up the atmosphere, browse the wares and take colourful photos.

I’ve been to the trendy one (Spitalfields), the crowded one (Portobello), the gourmet one (Borough), the sneezy one (Columbia Road Flower Market), the spicy one (Brick Lane) and I intend to get round as many as I can – I’m even going to the stinky one (Billingsgate – by 5.30am most of the stock is gone leaving just the fruity language).

Trawling the London market stalls has got me thinking about Birmingham’s markets. I’ve always loved visiting the huge Bullring market complex that comprises the Indoor market, the Rag Market and the Open Fruit and Veg Market just outside.

Because of Brum’s rich cultural diversity, the market stalls contain items be they sari material, spices or fruit from all over the world. The home grown stuff is also fab and I particularly enjoy popping down to the Indoor Market whenever I’m in need of fish.

In other ways, I feel the markets could ‘tweak’ some aspects that would make them a destination in themselves and not just a delight to be discovered by those who live in town.

Things I Love About Brum Markets
The Banter – particularly at the fish stalls and the Open Market, the stall-holders will vie for your attentions and that means they are in the mood to haggle (hooray!).

At Columbia Road a couple of weeks ago I heard this gem: ‘Do you know where you’ll be in an hour? I’ll be at Heathrow getting on a plane and I don’t wanna take all these lover-ly flowers. So quick, buy em!’ While another seller just yodelled like Tarzan…

Fresh Produce – There’s nothing like getting up early and getting down to the market. The earlier the better (as I learnt living in Florence, the flies sleep in a bit). Also, the fish will be properly gutted, even filleted for you if you like and at a waaaaay better cost than you’ll find at the supermarket.
Fish Stall
As we’re having a bit of a heat wave, wouldn’t these bad boys look good boiling away in a broth on the barbecue?
shell fish
Cheap as Chips – I used to come here if I had to dress up for one of those dreaded themed bar-crawls. And it didn’t disappoint. There are loads of cheap materials for budget-conscious dress makers, cheap make-up (a British market staple), and a fabulous haberdashers Pete’s Sew Good which I’ve often used.

Pete's Sew Good: thank God for haberdashers in these times of make do and mend.

Pete’s Sew Good: thank God for haberdashers in these times of make do and mend.

Also the market helps no end on my wedding anniversary because we do themed gifts each year with a £10 budget. This year was leather (no sniggering please) and I found some leather shoe insoles for £2 (yup, romance is definitely not dead) at the always surprising hardware stall – something which every market worth its salt should have btw.

If you've never had to buy a plunger you're not as independent as you think you are.

If you’ve never had to buy a plunger you’re not as independent as you think you are.

Diversity

Scallions next to mooli - this sums up the role of the veg market.

Scallions next to mooli – this sums up the role of the veg market.

No not the dance troupe (honestly)… Markets should always pair the familiar with the exotic and Birmingham does a great job with this. Otherwise, how would we find out about new things? But you can still find all the comforting staples of traditional British cooking such as root veggies:

All you need for a good stew: leeks, parsnips and swedes.

All you need for a good stew: leeks, parsnips and swedes.

and er, tripe…

Although it's THE street food in Tuscany, I dare Glynn Purnell to come up with a way to make tripe appetising.

Although it’s THE street food in Tuscany, I dare Glynn Purnell to come up with a way to make tripe appetising.

The Relationship between chef and produce – the area around Borough Market in London is a foodie paradise. The ingredients travel straight from the stall to the kitchen in next to no time. One person who understands this is Adam from Sushi Passion which stands in the Indoor Market. I remember Adam from his time at Yo Sushi in Brindley Place and he was always busy and industrious. His efforts going solo seem to be paying off as there are always customers queuing for his beautifully presented sushi, especially on Saturdays.

Sushi Passion: I took this photo when it was still a very new business but it has since taken off (hooray).

Sushi Passion: I took this photo when it was still a very new business but it has since taken off (hooray).

Recently on Facebook, Adam said he had received criticism for setting up in the market but I actually think this is a wonderful place for a food stand – it’s a hard-core foodie move, like including a ‘chef’s table’ and customers will certainly feel the connection between what is on the plate and where it comes from. I for one, would welcome more restaurants inside the market.

Things I Wish Brum Markets Would Do
A Weekly Gormet Market – We get some good periodic food festivals here in Brum, although in recent years there hasn’t been a sure-footed direction in terms of what should be celebrated – which in turn has led to less food fests.
Why not sort this out buy using the Open Market on Sunday and Monday when the regular stall-holders have their days off? Sunday markets are a London tradition which has continued from the days of Jewish immigrants to the present (think Brick Lane and Columbia Road which both occur on Sundays).

Let the bi-monthly Farmer’s Markets become a weekly event and centre it here. Let some of the fab Birmingham delis such as Lewis’ and Nima out in Moseley bring some of their offerings to the centre. Likewise, we have wonderful bakers such as Lucky 13 Bakehouse and Frost & Snow (who I know do stands), not to mention the baked goods on display at the Brum Uni farmers market. Borough Market attracts huge Saturday morning crowds for this very reason.

Dairy and bakes at the Indoor market

Dairy and bakes at the Indoor market

A Weekly Street Food Market – street food has become a British success story in recent years. Birmingham has some brilliant permanent stands itself such as Chilacas in Brindley Place (would we have seen street food take up a high profile restaurant spot even 5 years ago?) and our curries are internationally celebrated.

The Digbeth Dining Club operates a small but thriving street food market on Friday night under the railway arches in Digbeth, but they currently have to rotate the stalls (I’m not sure if this to prevent the club stagnating or if they just don’t have the space) but why not expand it and bring it to the city centre? As visitor figures for the German Christmas Market have shown, there is an appetite for this type of event.

Display Food like a Renaissance Painting –
This is how mushrooms are displayed at Borough market:photo (46)
and this is how veggies are displayed at one stall in the Open Market:
photoNot quite the same effect, is it? I like fruit and veg to tumble in abundance (oo-er, getting a bit Nigella food-porny here). It begs you to reach out and touch the produce (which is good market practice to check for ripeness).
Don’t get me wrong, Birmingham’s markets are doing just peachy without making any of these changes. It’s just my fantasy market, that’s all.

But who knows, maybe they could increase Brum’s fortunes…
fortune teller

Birmingham Bun Fight – Brum’s Best Bakeries

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My birthday cup cakes from Selfridges (thank you Ms J. Cutter ;)

My birthday cup cakes from Selfridges (thank you Ms J. Cutter ;))

Ooooooooohhhh, I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for a long time guys, a long time.

Research has involved painstakingly trying out all manner of treats at bakeries across the second city. I’ve been very diligent. I did some pre-research in America where I first developed my love affair with bakeries as an indispensable part of the community.

Ever since I laid eyes on the Astoria Pastry Shop in Royal Oak, Metro Detroit and, more recently Crust in Fenton, I’ve been waiting for Brum’s bakeries to shine. And I really feel now is their time. We have some established favorites and some hot new contenders snapping at their heels. This can only mean good things for Birmingham’s hungry masses. Surely there’s room for everyone?

To give all these establishments their due, it’s important to celebrate what they do well so I’ll run down the bakeries according to what you fancy. I haven’t included wholesalers on this list as I’m just concentrating on what’s available publicly. But wholesalers, you will have you day here too…

The Bread Collection: It's a collection of bread, does what it says on the sign really.

The Bread Collection: It’s a collection of bread, does what it says on the sign really.

This outlet for the Knowle-based artisan bakers is nothing if not bijou. A sign saying only 2 customers are allowed in at any one time (takes me back to school days at frightened newsagents’) means that there can be a little queue on Saturday mornings. The lady who often works there can also be quite surly (I find that if I act surly too then she lightens up a bit). This all adds to the air of exclusivity this place has cultivated.

Patisserie wow: the French influence works it's charm at The Bread Collection. Just so you know, I nabbed that bad boy macaroon on the bottom left. You're welcome!

Patisserie wow: the French influence works it’s charm at The Bread Collection. Just so you know, I nabbed that bad boy macaroon on the bottom left. You’re welcome!

But I persevere because the bread here is aces. In fact The Times (no less) has listed it as one of the 10 best small bakeries in the whole of Britain (hooray for Brum  – these lists are usually London saturated ). FUN FACT:  the baker here, Gilles Zidane, is the cousin of French footballing legend Zinedine Zidane and this would explain the certain je ne sais quoi  this boutique bakery possesses.  And their ability to make macaroons properly.

This is for those days when you want to surprise a loved one with breakfast in bed (specifically bacon sarnies) and walk around on a Saturday morning wearing a trench coat and jaunty scarf whilst toting a baguette, see here for inspiration.

Pretty + awesome = pretty awesome. Frost & Snow's cupcakes.

Pretty + awesome = pretty awesome. Frost & Snow’s cupcakes.

I’m a long time fan of Frost & Snow, both for the quality of their cakes and their charitable ethos (they help homeless locals get back on their feet by giving them a career and marketable skill). You have to trek a little way out to get to them these days (why oh why did their city centre stall in the Bullring pack up? – their website doesn’t say). The best explanation I can think of is that they wanted us to walk off the cupcake calories to make their treats further guilt-free. NB: If you can’t be bothered to walk they are online and supply the Urban Coffee Co and the Hippodrome.

I sill think their cupcakes are the prettiest in the city and their Earl Grey and lemon offering is one of the tastiest morsels I’ve come across (and believe me, I look).

BUT they do have some great local rivals, particularly Fallen Angel in Harborne (and Solihull) which specifically aims to tap into the American style of bakery.  I love the way they use fresh fruit to decorate their cuppies. It’s all very yummy mummy (and why not). Selfridges also does a marvellous selection now too (see top picture).

Come in my pretties: the sweet jade and pink exterior is like a siren to passing girly girls.

Come in my pretties: the sweet jade and pink exterior is like a siren to passing girly girls.

I had a particularly successful party last summer (before I inevitably got ill for months on end and started this blog). I can’t help feeling that getting up early and buying boxes of cream cakes from this fab bakery in the Chinese Quarter helped with the happy mood. It is a girly paradise with it’s jade green palette, Marie Antoinette furnishings (didn’t she allegedly say ‘let them eat cake?’), colourful bubble teas, and Carmen Miranda-like gateaux.

Taken pretty late in the day at Caffe Chino but it gives you an idea of the fabulous gateaux on offer.

Taken pretty late in the day at Caffe Chino but it gives you an idea of the fabulous gateaux on offer.

In fact Caffe Chino operates as a sort of girly deli, as you can buy exotic candy, pork buns and all sorts there as well as all manner of celebration cakes for order. This may be because they are affiliated with the Wing Wah group of restaurants. Personally I think it’s best to stick to the cakes here as their macaroons are not the best but it’s always busy and friendly here.

Glutinous maximus: more goodies on offer at Caffe Chino, these are, I suspect, moshi (but don't quote me on that).

Glutinous maximus: more goodies on offer at Caffe Chino. These are, I suspect, moshi (but don’t quote me on that).

Caffe Chino’s nearest rival is straight across from them. Like the Joan Collins and Linda Evans of the Chinese bakery world, Caffe Chino vs Wah Kee is an ongoing battle. If Caffe Chino is Joan Collins (all designer clothes and immaculate red lipstick) then Wah Kee is Linda Evans (softer, less showy but more natural). Did I really just use Dynasty as an analogy for West Midlands Chinese bakeries? – meh, it happens.

Bun fight: the Wah Kee Bakery sits opposite Caffe Chino in the Arcadian Centre.

Bun fight: the Wah Kee Bakery sits opposite Caffe Chino in the Arcadian Centre.

The Wah Kee is a different yet no less enticing place. Less upscale, more basic, it covers all the bases as far as Chinese baking is concerned. The cakes, the pork buns the green tea Swiss rolls, they’re all here.  And they’re usually a bit cheaper.

Chinese staple: both the Wah Kee and Caffe Chino are fans of green tea Swiss rolls.

Chinese staple: both the Wah Kee and Caffe Chino are fans of green tea Swiss rolls.

They’re also a little less trendy, like the cakes your nan would buy rather than the sort your yummy mummy would try to impress with, but that is no bad thing. Going here feels a bit like getting something authentic in a New York neighbouhood. In this way, it’s a little gem really.

Spring chickens: Easter offerings at the Wah Kee

Spring chickens: Easter offerings at the Wah Kee

  • Best for Doughnuts: I guess the biggest contender here has to be Krispy Kreme in the Bullring.
Hot 'Nuts: when the sign flickers on the hordes come a runnin'

Hot ‘Nuts: when the sign flickers on, the hordes come a runnin’

My husband is always amused by the way Krispy Kreme has taken off over here. He says as far as American doughnuts go, KK (no, not the KKK – horrid people) isn’t considered that remarkable. But over here, the opening of a new Krispy Kreme shop causes traffic jams (this year in Edinburgh) and in the Bullring, the ‘HOT NOW’ sign being switched on regularly results in a queue of 50 or more ravenous shoppers.

The only real rival it has is the Frankfurt Christmas Market with its After Eight flavoured ‘nuts. And even then some of my German friends say they wouldn’t dream of buying the things and can’t understand why we love them so much. Lots of hot, sugared thingies are on offer at all these pretzel stores that are springing up though, so maybe the super-doughnut’s monopoly will shortly be challenged.

I guess when it comes to doughnuts, we Brits love the novelty. Our traditional sugared doughnuts are usually soggy affairs with rubbish jam whereas KK offers warm, glazed, dry rays of hope in a frequently rain-soaked existence.

  • Best for French Macaroons: Selfridges in the Bullring
By popular demand: Selfridges has been on the macaroon bandwagon for a while now and has a decent selection of flavours.

By popular demand: Selfridges has been on the macaroon bandwagon for a while now and has a decent selection of flavours.

Call me a snot but I get very wary when I look for macaroons outside London or Paris. You see, they are my favorite thing (apart from my husband). And even then, I’ve had some bad experiences in London. I know how hard they are to make, having tried and failed miserably a few times.

A few places in Brum have made valiant efforts. Caffe Chino as I described earlier does them too cakey. The Bread Collection does them well (but usually only supplies one lone macaroon once in a blue moon). So I’ll plump for Selfridges which does quite a few flavours now. They are supplied by the English Rose Bakery and they’re pretty good but maybe on the crisp side.  Manchester-based Emma Brown, the baker is, like me, a huge Laduree fan and I hope she keeps up her admirable efforts.

  •   Best for Baklava: Cranberry in the Bullring
Nutty naughtiness: Selection of baklava from Cranberry in the Bull Ring

Nutty naughtiness: Selection of baklava from Cranberry in the Bull Ring

Cranberry is just one of those Julian Graves type ‘grazing’ stands you get in all major shopping centres. You know what I mean; the nuts, the dried apricots, the yohurt-covered raisins. But it also has a pretty decent selection of everyone’s favorite Mediterranean after-dinner treat. They’re good for presents too. I’ll also mention that Bader Restaurant, a Lebanese place in Small Heath also does good baklava (and in way more diet-friendly portions).

Just desserts: cream cakes at Selfridges.

Just desserts: cream cakes at Selfridges.

I love it when a restaurant lets you pack up dessert to take home – a really good idea if you want to get lucky on a date! Or better yet, when you can have dessert already waiting back at your place (and I don’t mean yourself in just your tea-stained Y-fronts). Luckily, a few places around here can help you out with that.

I really like Carluccios (because they know the way to an Italian man’s heart – or Italian-American in my case) who have lovely tarts, biscotti and meringues.  Selfridges has some show-stopping examples of patisserie. Further out, Nima Deli in Moseley does some fab Sicilian pastries.

I’m so glad Britain is cottoning on to the importance of delis in helping to market local produce and introduce us to the best of the rest. Brum is a big place and I must have left off loads of delis here but feel free to share your faves in the comments box below!

Best for On The Run: Anderson & Hill, Great Western Arcade

Old Greggs: fast and convenient but there are at least four branches in a very small area so let's help the little guy shall we?

Old Greggs: fast and convenient but there are at least four branches in a very small area so let’s help the little guy shall we?

While Greggs has the monopoly on the sausage roll around here (and there’s nothing wrong with that from time to time) there are some truly wonderful snacks to be had out there. The sandwiches at Anderson and Hill for example are quick, simple and show off this deli’s carefully selected range of artisan foods.

While I can’t wholeheartedly recommend Church St’s Home deli as a breakfast venue, it is a great place for lunch and sandwiches. The salt beef and brie are great  and they do some weird but fun experiments with pastry too (I’ve tried a strange looking horn with vivid green icing here). I also hear great things about Lewis’ Deli on St Mary’s Row in Moseley.  And if you’re after Middle Eastern pastries, Al Barakha on Mary Street in Balsall Heath is well loved.

Further Out: I always get into trouble here for being too city-centre focused but hey, lay off  – I’m a city centre girl! My blog is about surviving in the city centre where it’s harder to find all the cute things you lot in the suburbs have. Blame Birmingham’s extortionate commercial rents (£10,000 a month apparently).

Having said that, I do know that there are some fab places a little further out that definitely deserve to be called Brum’s Best. For example Birmingham mini-chain Maison Mayci (in Moseley and King’s Heath) does wonderful things with french influenced patisserie and in particular their bread shaped into creatures (take a look on their website and prepare to be astonished).  And for a quaint, easy-going bakery experience, the Bournville Bread Basket on the green takes some beating.  

If I’ve missed out something glaringly obvious and you are desperate to tell everyone about your favorite bakery, please leave a comment – I love visiting bakeries so you’ll always have at least one new customer!

Great work, bakers of Brum -we salute you! 

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