Some while back, I entered a giveaway competition over on Mrs M's. I only enter giveaways if I really want the prize, and often they are only open to US residents, but the nice thing about our Mrs M is that she's here in the UK! The prizes in question were three pairs of tickets to the BBC Winter Good Food Show, and by chance the dates fell right around the end of my university term. I entered, assuming as I did so that I would never win, and promptly forgot all about it.
So imagine my surprise when I checked in to my Blogger dashboard to see my name in her latest post! I clicked through and discovered to my pleasure that I had won one of the pairs of tickets. Birmingham is a bit of a trek from where I live, but it was too good a chance to pass up, so I canvassed my friends and found someone who was keen to come along: my friend Heidi, who is a keen cook, far better and more informed about cooking than I am.
We set off before dawn to catch an eye-wateringly early train and rattled our way north. Birmingham International train station is connected to the NEC where the show was being held, and we simply joined the hordes of people flocking towards the designated halls. Amusingly there was also a motorbike rally going on in an adjacent hall, but there were people on hand to make sure that everyone got to the right event.
I was taken aback when we walked into the room. I had never seen so many stalls in one place, not even in the merchandise hall of the gaming convention I attended in the USA. We decided to work our way round systematically, starting at the bottom left corner, and making a note of the stalls we wanted to come back to. Heidi also made a list of places she especially wanted to see out of the thick show brochure.
I was slightly disappointed by the lack of specifically vegetarian stalls. The only things in the guide under the heading of Vegetarian weren't really veggie at all - just non-meat, if that makes sense: stalls selling chocolate, herbs & spices, and fruit cordials. I had been hoping to find some inspiration but the focus was far more on baking and fancy gadgets. Both of which are things I like looking at! We were both surprised but pleased by the Guide Dogs for the Blind stall, which had a number of dogs to pet whilst the more adventurous attendees went to find out what the Sensory Tunnel was (I do not number myself among the latter; I stayed with the bags). It took some time to find a stall selling vegetarian food for lunch - there were two, but one had sold out of the vegetarian option so we ended up with a sort of African wrap full of falafel, salad and a red sauce which slowly soaked through the wrap and dripped all over my skirt. That may have been down to my ineptitude, however.
The array of cheeses in the cheese awards was quite impressive; I particularly liked the Swiss cheese stall giving out samples and demonstrating a magical machine that shaved off pieces of hard cheese into rose-shaped swirls. I had been tempted to go and watch the Omlette Challenge at one of the big-screen demonstration stands; in fact we caught a glimpse of it on our way to something else and it looked more like entertainment than real cooking.
Overall it was an enjoyable day, and I came home with a packet of little sugar ducks as a gift for a friend who enjoys baking, but I did feel that such a large food-centred event would have catered a little better for "non-standard" food requirements. In fact, I don't really feel that being vegetarian is all that non-standard in the UK these days. Anyone with a food allergy or intolerance would not have found anything catering to their needs at all. As a day out it was great, but as inspiration for my cooking it was sadly lacking. If I go again it will be with different expectations, and I'm sure it would live up to them as they would be more realistic!
My current food venture is planning the first Christmas I have ever hosted alone. I have worked out what we'll be eating for each of the main meals and put a Sainsbury's order in, to be delivered next week once I'm home from visiting family. I've also planned some new recipes for my term's freezer meals; many of last term's meals have been kept in but a few have been ditched as less than successful. Somehow the whole lot has come to less than £50; possibly because I have several staple items which I haven't used up yet (and a few I haven't used at all - oops! I'm sure I'll find a use for that frozen basil soon...). I'm looking forward to getting cracking with the cooking.