Introducing Life by Naomi

So I’ve finally taken the plunge and moved the blog over to www.lifebynaomi.com.

You’ll find all the posts from It’s a fine, fine life, including all those slow cooker recipes, tips for children and stories of our life in Manchester. I’ll continue blogging about our life now that we’ve moved to Lancashire.

Please update your bookmarks, re-subscribe and see you over the other side!

Ribble Valley Sundays: The Aspinall Arms

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Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.com

A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Aspinall Arms at Mitton for Sunday Lunch. We had spotted this pub a few times, and from the outside, it looked lovely: a proper country pub, in a lovely rural setting, and chalkboards outside advertising food. It was one of the first to go on our list for Ribble Valley Sundays.

Although it was a cold, grey, January day, the pub was doing a good trade and the car park was busy – I was glad we had made reservations. The bar area was suitably traditional, with log fires burning, wingback chairs and dogs lying in front of the fire. Plus a few quirky little touches, like the dog biscuits and reading glasses on offer.

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The dining room is at the back of the pub, with huge windows that look out onto the River Ribble. There’s plenty of space, including a really large round table in the middle where a family was celebrating a birthday. I thought it would be a lovely place to have a multi-generational family celebration.

It being a Sunday, we skipped the starters, and went straight for the mains. I had the Roast Pork, which was excellent.

Roast Pork Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.comGenerous slices of pork, lots of vegetables and potatoes, and, of course, fabulous crackling. I know it’s really high in calories, but it was a treat!

Tim, being unconventional, had a burger.

Burger Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.comThere was also a good children’s menu, and Ben, to no-one’s surprise, confidently ordered his own pasta, which he wolfed down in about 3 minutes flat.

We stayed for both dessert and coffee, where Tim had sticky toffee pudding, and I had creme brulee. I really love creme brulee, and often order it if we’re out, as it’s something I wouldn’t ever really make at home. I can, and have in the past, but I haven’t done it for years.

Anyway, the Aspinall Arms creme brulee was lovely. It was definitely on the generous side though, and Ben may have benefitted from my shortbread.

Creme brulee Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.comTim’s sticky toffee pudding was delicious, but not quite so photogenic. In fact, with a lot of editing, it wasn’t very photogenic at all, so I’ve left the photo out. Instead, here’s a very Instagram-worthy photo of our coffee.

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I expect this place is teeming in Summer, with its views across the river, the picturesque bridge and it’s green tractor outside for children to climb over. Despite it being freezing, Ben (and Tim) were still keen to have a go before we left.

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I really enjoyed this visit. The Aspinall Arms is a proper gastropub, just what you want for a Sunday lunch. Yes, it was a bit pricier – £55.00 for the three of us – but it was really lovely. I may have my eye on that big table for a birthday later in the year.

Scores:

Food 9/10

Atmosphere 9/10

Service 9/10

Child friendliness 8/10

I’ll be honest – some of these aren’t 10 because I don’t want to go too high, too early in this series!

Aspinall Arms Ribble Valley Sundays itsafinefinelife.wordpress.com

Ribble Valley Sundays: The Calf’s Head at Worston

Ribble Valley Sundays

This year, Tim and I are planning to make the most of the amazing pubs we have practically on our doorstep in the Ribble Valley. Having a toddler means that evening visits to pubs are generally out, but we thought a regular Sunday lunch slot would be a fair measure of working out the best and the worst. It also means that we’ll get to know lots of the villages around us. We’ll be visiting lots of Ribble Valley pubs to sample their Sunday Lunch menus – sounds like a good plan to me.

Last Sunday, we visited The Calf’s Head at Worston. Worston is a pretty little village, tucked under the imposing Pendle Hill. The pub (Country Restaurant, Hotel and Watering Hole actually, according to its slogan) is the biggest building in the village, and certainly doesn’t want for car parking. We visited on a wintry, windy day in January, and the setting was a bit bleak.

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At this time of the year, it sometimes feels as if it’ll never be summer. Looking out on Pendle Hill, winter was definitely in full force. So the roaring fire inside, with hot spiced apple for sale at the bar, were both very welcome.

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Although we had booked, we were asked to buy a drink at the bar and wait until our table became available. In fact, before I had even ordered the drinks, Tim was being taken to our table and had ordered our meals.

The dining areas are, I presume, extensions of the pub, and there seemed to be three different areas in use. This meant that, although it was very busy, it didn’t feel crowded in any way. This is certainly a popular location for Sunday Lunch, particularly with multi-generational parties – I think we were the only table with only two generations, rather than three, at the table.

Although the pub is very traditional, the dining areas are a bit more modern, although the decor did seem quite dated. It is a hotel, and it felt like a hotel dining room rather than a pub, if you get my meaning. Rather than being cosy and traditional, the dining areas felt a bit cold and unloved. However, the facilities for children – highchairs and changing rooms – were excellent, and the toilets were good too.

Sunday is carvery day at The Calf’s Head, and, having a slightly fractious toddler on our hands, we opted out of having a starter (I had already seen the dessert table). We were given a slightly odd plate of crudites to nibble, which kept Ben happy while Tim got our meals.

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The carvery offered quite a selection in terms of meat on offer: turkey, gammon, lamb and beef were on offer, and, as Tim got my meal, we both had all four. Tim, being a committed carnivore, thought this was excellent, and was particularly pleased with this. Ben devoured his Yorkshire pudding, and would have happily eaten ours too if we had let him. Personally, while the meat was fine and well-roasted, I would have liked a lot more vegetables. Mashed carrot and shredded cabbage just weren’t special enough for me, I’m afraid.

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The dessert table was a bit special. I’m a real sucker for dessert, and this one is clearly a draw for the Calf’s Head. It’s on display opposite the carvery, so you can’t miss it.

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There’s a fresh fruit salad right at the bottom end, so you do have a healthy option!

The choice of desserts fitted the traditional aspect of the pub: lemon meringue pie, black forest gateau, trifle, banoffee pie. We sampled both the lemon meringue and the banoffee, and both were fine, although I did wonder how much the menu varies from week to week.

As Ben had well and truly had enough by this time, we skipped coffee and headed home, our bill coming to just under £35. That wasn’t too bad, I thought, for a 2 course Sunday lunch for us, but I did think the whole experience was slightly like stepping back in time, in terms of the food and the decor. However, it is very popular, and we went based on a recommendation, so it definitely suits other people’s tastes.

Food: 7

Atmosphere: 5

Service: 6

Child-friendliness: 8

Overall: 6/10

I’d love to hear your Sunday lunch recommendations, so please comment below. Next week, we’re heading to the Aspinall Arms at Mitton.

4 months in…

Back in August, we moved into our new home. We had hardly any furniture, a surprisingly big garden and we couldn’t believe how blessed we were to have found this house. But, with my old flat in Manchester empty and on the market, we still had 2 mortgages to pay, and a car that was surely on its last miles. I was facing starting work at a new school, with the challenges of being full time with a maximum teaching timetable. Ben was starting a new nursery, full time. In addition, we were further away from our families and didn’t have any friends nearby. We tried to prepare ourselves for a tough few months.

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As I’ve blogged about before, our first couple of months were crazily busy, mostly with family commitments. Throughout November and December, we’ve were able to spend some quality weekends in our new home, and to finally purchase some furniture. We’re slowly getting to know the village and – very slowly – making connections.

Sofa

They finally bought a sofa for me!

The centre of Whalley is a 10 minute walk away, which is great. A library, a park, lots of lovely coffee shops, a florist, a hardware shop, an old Abbey and even a monthly farmers market – not to forget the wine shop and some lovely pubs (or so Tim tells me). The village really drew us to this area, and we’re really enjoying having all this loveliness in our doorstep. We’ve also enjoyed taking visitors, like Becca in the photo below, and her husband Jon Man, who took the photo, to the Whalley Wine Shop.

Whalley Wine

Outside Whalley Wine Shop.

Ducks

Feeding the ducks… or eating their bread.

We’ve also found a church in Clitheroe. We’re getting involved in St James. It’s a year since we left Ivy in Manchester, and it’s great to be able to commit to a church community. Churches are sometimes, paradoxically, quite difficult to get into – it isn’t always obvious how you move from ‘visitor’ to ‘regular,’ and from ‘regular’ to ‘part of the community.’ When you have a toddler, we can spend much of the service involved in distraction techniques, so when the service ends, even if he’s been in the creche, you want to get out of there asap. It takes a real effort to spend some time having coffee and trying to have a chat. Mid-week small groups are definitely the way forward, although it was great to be part of the choir and to attend church on Christmas morning all together. 

Church

The evening carol service just before Christmas.

Our first Christmas in our new home was excellent, with my parents and Ben’s godparents and their little boy coming to visit. We were so glad of the extra space – rooms for people to sleep in, (just about) enough chairs for everyone to sit in. It was really good to cook Christmas dinner ourselves – Tim took responsibility for the potatoes.

Sleigh

This was a very classy Santa in a local garden centre.

We had a few days away for New Year, heading to Betws-y-coed in Wales for a few days with some friends. Tim’s parents had Ben to stay for a couple of nights, which was fantastic – we had a really fun time, and it was lovely to have some proper grown up time.

Garden

Tim gardening with my dad.

So now we’re back in Lancashire to settle in to 2015. I’m praying it’ll be a peaceful year, one of really establishing ourselves where we live. We’re hoping the flat will have sold and completed in a few weeks, and we’re coping with one car. I’m hoping to rediscover a bit of work-life balance by limiting myself to stopping work at 9pm each night (a New Years Resolution), and hopefully to blogging a lot more. While these “catch-up” posts are useful for looking back on what we’ve done and where we’ve come from, it’s not what I really want from the blog, so that’s something to work on. I’d love to hear what you’d like from the blog (if you read it), so please comment below, and a Happy New Year to you all.

Book Review: The Other Ida

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It’s been a while since I did a book review on the blog, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. In fact, I’m reading a lot at the moment, as we have a fantastic library in the village. It has a great library, and Ben and I walk down there most Saturday mornings. As well as a huge range of books for younger children, Ben has recently discovered the children’s DVD section. Borrowing a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD last week turned out to be a pound very well spent, as Ben is currently obsessed.

This means that I’ve been able to pick up the odd novel and also a few cookery books. The Great British Bake Off Christmas book is currently in my possession, and I’m tempted to renew it until the end of December. I’ve also joined a local book group run by the Library service. This is great, as it means I have to prioritise my reading – this is never really a chore.

So when I was asked to review a new novel which had won the Dundee International Book Prize, I was happy to agree.

The Other Ida, by Amy Mason, is a fast-paced, original novel, with a great main character. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d like Ida, the main character very much – she drinks too much, is hopelessly chaotic, and seems to be on a path to self-destruction. But actually, she is a really complex character, and her journey of self and family-discovery is a really good read.

One of the things I love so much about reading, and Literature in general, is that it can transport you into the shoes of another person. In Ida’s shoes, there is an element of discomfort. Her experience and history is so far removed from mine, and yet, I could really relate to her. In fact, it made me think back to my teenage self and made me realise how much we do change in those formative years in our teens and twenties.

Suffice to say, Ida’s own teenage years were chaotic, and traumatic at times. As an adult, she is experiencing the fallout from that, and hasn’t spoken to her alcoholic mother for years. When her mother, the writer Bridie Adair, dies, Ida has to return to the home of her teenage years to help arrange the funeral. Her relationship with her sister is fractured, to say the least, and the spiky dialogue between them is vivid and engaging.

I really enjoyed this book. It is the kind of book I would choose, but I have to say, I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would. The non-linear structure means that the pieces of the puzzle fall together for the reader in the same way they do for Ida. Each evening, I couldn’t wait to find out just that bit more. Its fast pace kept me interested, as well as my real hopes for Ida.

I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher, but all opinions here are my own.

A Christmas Preview

SONY DSCLast Wednesday was a wild, cold and blustery night up here in Lancashire. As much as I wanted to stay inside in the warm, I ventured out into Whalley to a Christmas Preview night by Food by Breda Muphy.

Food by Breda Murphy is a lovely eatery in Whalley, opposite the train station. Part restaurant, part deli and part gift shop, I have already been in several times to find gifts and to eat. It’s a really lovely place, just outside the main village. The food is really high quality, and truly delicious. Plus, it’s a family-run, independent business.

The preview night was an opportunity to view their Christmas range of decorations, gifts and food hampers.

SONY DSCI love this beautiful pale blue glass jar. A lot of the items on sale were in icy tones of white and blue, with lots of sparkling lights and glass. It looked both festive and elegant.

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I could definitely see this clock on our mantlepiece!

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These socks hanging on the wall would make fun present. There were also lots of snuggly blankets and throws – necessary for chilly Lancashire evenings.

SONY DSCThese hampers had some lovely components. There was a real range as well, in size and price. I may have my eye on one or two of these for gifts.

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I did buy one of these signs, and they seemed to be very popular on the evening – most people had one or two in their basket! I think it’ll look great in our hallway.

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Christmas definitely needs a little sparkle, and this glass tree is just beautiful.

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These baubles look so beautiful in a group like this. They were really unusual.

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Stags seem to be very fashionable in home decor this winter. I thought this guy was gorgeous. I just need some furniture to put him on.

Add in some canapes, a glass of Prosecco, and by the time I left, I was feeling really quite Christmassy… is it time to start singing carols yet?

September and October

The last two months have officially been the busiest we’ve ever had. I knew it was going to be busy when we received two wedding invitation for consecutive Saturdays in September, both down South.

The first was down in London, the lovely wedding of our friends Jen and Rob.

We had a great time seeing the sights on Saturday morning:

London

The afternoon wedding at The Barbican was lovely too. It was definitely the easiest wedding venue I’ve ever been to with a toddler, as the venue had several pools with fish in to keep him entertained, and the whole venue was enclosed. The whole weekend was really made fantastic by the chance to stay at the Barbican, which meant we could walk to and from the venue – something that doesn’t often happen to us!

Thanks for inviting us Jen and Rob – and congratulations!

The week after that was crazy – Tim came down with flu and had to spend all week in bed. Working full time plus looking after Ben plus Tim was exhausting to say the least. I have such admiration for any parent who does a lot of flying solo. Anyway, I did manage to get to Manchester to see War Horse at The Lowry, which was amazing.

With Tim still ill, and faced with the prospect of a 5 hour drive on my own with a toddler, and back again, we pulled out of attending the second wedding. I was so disappointed, but honestly don’t think I would have coped with the rest of the term without that weekend at home. We hung out and did things like feed the ducks.

Feeding ducks

Sorry we didn’t make it Emma and Dan – but congratulations!

Me working full time has been a huge adjustment for us all. I worked part time last year (3 days a week) and loved my days in work and my days at home with Ben. With the change of job, I’ve had to go to full time, and it is really demanding. In order to spend a few hours with Ben each afternoon after work, I have to work every evening, and usually put some time in during the weekends. I know this is partly because I’m at a new school, but in many ways, this is the teacher’s lot: long holidays, but 60+ hour weeks in term time. So any quieter weekends have often been swallowed up in snatching moments to plan or mark books.

At the beginning of October, there was no chance for working. We had our niece and nephew to stay. It was loads of fun, and they were absolutely brilliant. Tim planned a whole weekend themed around the idea of knights and castles, and we took them up to Clitheroe Castle, dressed as knights with wooden swords and shields. It was a complete hit. All three children were exhausted by lunchtime on Sunday – as were we!

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That week, I had received news that I was really looking forward to: my sister had had a baby boy, Sebastian. We took the opportunity to head down to Somerset to meet him when he was less than two weeks old. They all seem to be doing really well, and Sebastian is absolutely gorgeous.

Ben loved seeing his new cousin, and, of course, his grandparents, aunt and uncle.

Taunton

Now that I’ve got half term, I’m finally able to catch up on some of this stuff – and catch my breath a bit too. It’s become known as The Time of the Crazy Weekends, and fortunately, it seems to be calming down a bit over the next few weeks. I’m hoping we’ll have some time to get things straightened out in the house, as we’re entertaining a bit too.

I hope you understand why it’s been so quiet on the blog recently. Bear with me while I try to get some perspective on things! As always, I love to read your comments, so please add them to the blog.