Friday, 31 March 2017

Gin Festival Review

I’m not going to say gin is my life, but if I had to take 3 things to a desert island gin would probably make the cut. Ok, it would make all three places and I may sneak in a fourth bottle. So when I heard that a gin festival was coming to town, that’s right, a festival for gin, then naturally I had to go.

Here’s a bit of info on what the gin festival is, where it is, prices etc.

  • Where? - I went to the one in Manchester but they are all over the place. Nottingham, Torquay, Bournemouth, Leeds, Liverpool, Oxford, London, Birmingham and many more.
  • When? - The Manchester one ends on the 2nd April but they’re touring the country up until the 10th September.
  • Entry Price? - Depends where you are but somewhere around £10-£15 for a ticket.
  • Drink Price? - You buy tokens at the token booth which are £5 each. Gin was one token but the cocktails were two tokens.

Okay so now the whats and the where’s are out of the way, let’s talk about the actual festival itself. Firstly, the Manchester one was set in the b-e-a-utiful building called Victoria Baths near Fallowfields, which is an old swimming baths. The food court and the gin tasting areas were in the swimming pool and there were lots of changing room stalls all along the sides where you could stop to eat and have a swig of gin or just enjoy the general good atmosphere. It was all so hipster, top marks for venue.

It just so happened to coincide with Manchester's first sunny weekend in about a million years, so my spirits were high even before I consumed the numerous gins. You get a sort of gin guide book when you arrive, which lists all of the gins available and gives a little back story of them. This was particularly useful. I like trying new gins and living in Manchester has allowed me to try a decent amount. But there was a big selection with plenty of new ones I hadn’t heard of before. One that caught my eye was the Isjford gin. This is made using water from icebergs that have broken for the Greenland Ice Cap. How can you resist that?

As I said earlier it’s a token system. You pay for your tokens at the booth and then use them to get your drinks. What I did like about this is that you pick the gin you want and then you get your choice of tonics. The gin guide book recommends which ones go with each gin, very useful. And the staff are knowledgable and happy to help. But ultimately it is up to you and there is plenty of different flavours to choose from. Also big bonus…they were fever tree tonics! This is one of my favourite tonics to go with gin, I just think it compliments it so well. You can really tell the difference between a cheaper brand tonic and pricier ones like fever tree tonic, the taste is so much better.

Overall I thought it was the perfect weekend activity. There was a lot going on to keep you entertained for a good few hours. The venue was beautiful, the staff were friendly, the gin was on point. And at the end of it all you get to keep your gin glass (at least I think you were allowed to)! Gins were a bit on the pricey side at £5 a pop but these days you pay similar to that in most bars. At least here you’re getting to try something new and probably rare to find. I guess the only thing I would have liked in the Manchester one was an outdoor seating area. As I said it was quite a nice day but everything was indoors. But with Manchester being know as the rainy city I can see why they made that decision! It’d be good to go with your partner or a group of friends, as a day out or as part of pre-drinks, I felt pretty merry by the end I can tell you! So all in all I would, and have, highly recommend this for a day out. I will definitely be visiting this again next year. Or maybe this year but in a different city.

Disclaimer: The tickets and drink tokens were free of charge but my views and opinions are, as always, my own. 


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

My 'Refined Sugar Free' Thing - Midway Point

Each year I give up something for lent. I am not religious really, at all. But I do like testing myself to see what I can do. This year I had a bit of trouble deciding what to give up for lent. I have given up lots of things over the years: chocolate, crips, chocolate and crisps, garlic bread pizza, junk food. Pretty much anything bad that I ate enough of at the time to class as a ‘problem’. I’ve always had a bit of a love hate relationship with food. I love to eat it but I hate the resulting effects. Ever tightening clothes, a drop in body confidence and general lack of energy. So every year I choose lent as a means to make a healthy lifestyle change. 

Why I have decided to go refined sugar free

This year I decided to embark upon my biggest challenge, giving up refined sugar. As I said, I have given up many different foods over the years, but I always end up finding a substitution. When I gave up chocolate last year my sweet intake went through the roof. When I gave up garlic bread I discovered the joys of cheesy chips. And when I gave up junk food I ate all of the carbs. So I started thinking what one thing could I give up that will stop me eating unhealthy food almost completely? Well if the news outlets are anything to go by today sugar is the bad guy and it is basically in everything. Give up sugar, give up…well almost everything that’s delicious and tasty! Sugar is apparently as addictive, or more addictive, than cocaine. We all know it’s unhealthy and contributes to things like Diabetes. And it’s hidden in so many foods. Next time you find a low fat product in the shops, have a gander at the sugar content. So many low fat yoghurts have 15g or more of sugar per pot. The American Heart association recommends men have 37.5g and women have just 25g a day. 

With all the facts and figures read and reread on various blogs and articles, I felt like I had made the right decision. I am a self-proclaimed chocolate addict, milkshake connoisseur and pizza lover. I knew this was going to be difficult.  Beyond difficult. Almost impossible. But I also knew that the benefits would be huge (hopefully). So in the week leading up to lent I made sure I ate almost every bit of mouth watering sugary treat that was in the house, aka living the dream. I had a bon voyage to my former life meal in the form of dominos and an Oreo Dairy Milk. Then I went to the shop and stocked up on all things healthy.

How I am doing it

So the first obstacle I crossed was what in the hell do I even cook? I have recently decided to try vegetarianism, so filling up on meat would not be on option. My first shop involved pacing around the veg aisle and ultimately grabbing almost every piece of veg that I like in the hope that I could make a few meals out of them. Most jars of sauces, drinks and fat food contain lots of hidden sugar. So for this to work I have had to make almost every meal from scratch. Food preparation is absolutely essential in keeping this up. I have food in the house for every meal so there is no excuse to eat something else. I also have fruit on hand for when the sweet tooth starts kicking in. Red grapes have become my saviour!

When is it the hardest

So there are obviously times when it is more difficult than others. It’s not just one specific time, but at many different points during the week. After eating a meal I crave something sweet so bad! This is where the grapes come in very handy. I am also struggling with Friday. Friday is treat day. This is a known fact. I work in Manchester city centre so on most Fridays everyone goes out for food. Burritos, burgers, wraps…you name it, it is within walking distance of my office. Now I munch on some carrots while everyone around me is tucking into an indian takeaway, trying to not stare to longingly at their plates. Eating out is virtually impossible, especially without eating meat. I had to go to three separate pubs on the same day before I eventually found a menu I could choose something from. The weekend in general is a big fight against temptation. I am just so used to pigging out and pretending calories don’t exist for two days. Finally my emotions can make it hard. When I am stressed or down I  instinctively reach for the sweet relief of chocolate.

What are the results

So there are many wide and varied side effects of giving up sugar. In the first few days I was extremely tired. But I wouldn’t want to solely attribute this to giving up sugar as I was also not sleeping well due to work stresses. So it could have been a combination of the two that led to my drowsiness. Another side effect I have experienced is getting a cold. In the second week I was sneezing every day and felt symptoms of a cold first thing in the morning, mid afternoon and after my evening meal. I guess at least two of these times are when my body was used to having a sugar dose. Finally I have been having some pretty weird and vivid dreams. I didn’t think this was related until I read in an article where other people have experienced this too. Definitely a weird symptom I did not expect.

All of that aside, there have been some positive side effects. After the initial few days of sleepiness my energy levels have actually been more steady then they have in a long time. I haven’t really experienced the afternoon slump since I started. I can sometimes be so bloated. Within a few days this had disappeared and my stomach, to me at least, was noticeably flatter than before. This is the cleanest I have ate so I don’t really have to calorie count anymore. I have started to use My Fitness Pal to ensure I am eating enough calories. I didn’t want to restrict what I ate and starve myself, I wanted to eat plenty of clean food instead. I am eating around the same calories as before, but just from the right food sources. This has inevitably led to the weight coming off. I’ll admit, I haven’t lost as much as I would have expected to by now. I had high and somewhat unrealistic hopes of dropping three dress sizes overnight. But it has gone down and is continuing to go down. And I guess one of the small benefits that I have now is limited choice. This may not sound like a good thing but I am incredibly indecisive. So this has taken away the stress of deciding what to eat, making life that little bit simpler.


By the time this goes live I will be almost half way through. I am shocked that I have made it this far, given my true devotion to chocolate. There have been moments of extremely weak willpower, where I thought I would give it all up for that one bite of a burger, but I managed to pull through. So maybe it was strong willpower afterall. There are certain situations that are proving to be more difficult than others. But I am slowly adjusting to the new healthier lifestyle. There have been a few down sides, like lack of energy and a 5 day head cold. But the pros are far outweighing the cons. I have more energy, I do not feel hungry as often as I used to, I actually feel healthier and the weight is coming down. Once this is over, and I have a weekend of celebrating with lots of chocolate and pizza, I think I will try to carry this on as much as possible.

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