June 28, 2013

Rachel in Limbo

This is a short diversion from the normally scheduled posts.

Rachel in Wales was not always Rachel in Wales.  I moved here in 2009.  I tried hard to get a visa to move to the UK and could only get one by becoming a student - so I got a masters degree.  I worked really hard for 18  months and graduated with a MA in History, I also took out a lot of student loans from America that I'll be paying back for the next 10 years.

Before my visa expired I was able to apply for a Post Study Working Visa - a 2 year visa granted to graduates that allows them to work in the UK with no minimum salary and no job requirements.  The visa cost £550 and took 3 months to process.  In that time I was in limbo - I couldn't find a permanent job but I couldn't leave the UK either (when in the process the border agency takes away your passport and ID documents).  Luckily it was issued in March 2011 and I found a good job by June.

That visa expired in February of 2013, and in January of 2013 I was again lucky enough to have an employer that liked me enough to sponsor me.  Sponsorship is a faff for UK employers that requires loads of paperwork, but they did their side and on January 25th 2013 I applied for my new visa.

On April 14th I received a letter from the home office telling me my visa had been denied and that I had 28 days to leave the country. After a lot of panic and some tears, I hired a lawyer to advise me. Apparently there was a typo on my application which said I was a government worker instead of a private sector worker - but as the UKBA does not have any administrative review proceedings the visa was denied and my passport was retained, ready for collection at my point of UK departure.
The lawyer filed my appeal paperwork on 19th April, and I again waited to hear back.  Still no passport.  In May 2013 I was scheduled to go back to America to visit my family - I had already purchased the tickets.  Without my passport I was unable to travel, and I did not get to go home.  In April 2013 I was meant to go to Italy to see my Sister, but I lost those flights as well.
On June 5th I heard back from the home office advising that my case would go to trial on 19th September, 2013.  My work had written many letters on my behalf, advising that the application had a typo and that they would do what they could to rectify the situation.  I had written letters explaining the same.  But I still did not have a passport, and it was beginning to look like I wouldn't have one until October.

On June 21st my lawyer called to let me know that the border agency had decided not to take my case to trial, and had redacted their immigration decision.  Now I just had to wait for my "case worker" to review my documents, and hopefully issue the visa.

Today, 28th June 2013, I received my new visa and got my passport back.  In total, the process took 5 months and cost almost £700 in Border agency fees plus £500 in lawyer costs.  I'm excited to not be in Limbo anymore - but I also want everyone to know that the decision to move to the UK is not easy, and it's not cheap, and it stays difficult even if you've been here for years.

So I'm not in limbo anymore, and guess what I'm going to do?

I'm celebrating having my passport back by driving to Belgium tomorrow.

Here's to more awesome years of being Rachel in Wales!!! Yahoo!!

June 27, 2013

The Potted Pig: Resturant Review

For my bithday my Brewer half planned a suprise day of adventure.  Unfortunately, since I over-think everything, I ruined the suprise almost instantly.  I have a mental list of resturants to try, and as we cycled towards town I slowly elimintated them - not Purple Poppadom, not Fish at 85, not The Park House... by the time we reached the Hilton I suspected I was in for an anxiously awaited lunch at The Potted Pig.

We arrived at 1pm on a Friday and the restaurant was full - fortunately the brewer half had a reservation (apparently he had tried for a dinner reservation but the waiting list for a Friday night is months long - it's not my fault my birthday fell on a Friday!).  The restaurant is built in a former bank vault and there are remnants of the vault dotted around - from large iron gates to stone columns to small alcoves.  But it's still a classy looking establishment, and it feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of St. Mary's street above.

Potted Pig has an amazing lunch deal - 2 courses for £12.

I ordered the Potted Pig to start - after all it's their name piece!
It did not disapoint.  Soft and succulent pork in an adorable pot, presented with pickled raddish and 2 slices of thick grainy toast.  The balance of pork and raddish was impeccable, slightly sweet and slightly sour and 100% perfection.

My brewer half ordered the Welsh Rarebit:

Melted cheese on toast but with a twist - a sharp taste of mustard and Worcestershire sauce made this the best Rarebit I've ever had.  I coaxed away two girlfriend bites before the Brewer half gobled it all up - he rated it exemplary, and he's lived on cheese on toast for years.

For my main I ordered the burger, medium.  I love a good burger - pink in the middle, crispy on the outside, not uniform but smashed up nice, tasty bun, smattering of accouterments (Lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion - BUT NO SAUCE).  The burger at the Potted Pig is one of my top 3 burgers in Cardiff.

The meat was perfection.  Quality you could taste, pink in the middle, right amount of toppings.  The only downside was the cheese, it tasted like packet american cheese.  With Wales having so many amazing cheese offerings I was a bit disappointed with the lack of inspiration here.  But it's hard to fault such a sublime burger.
The brewer half ordered the pulled pork sandwich:

It was exactly as ordered - layers of pulled pork on a toasty roll.  The pulled pork was possibly the same as the appitizer - certainly as soft and delicious - but I'm not sure it was enough to hold the whole sandwich together.  This is where any number of dipping sauces might have made it a more inspiring eat.  That said, I applaud a chef who works with fine quality food and cooking, and presents this food for its own enjoyment - there are times when packet sauces are used to disguise poor ingredients or chefs, and there was no hiding with this pork.  It was well cooked and clearly of great quality - as a personal preference I could have used (the option of) more flavor.

The hand cut chips were perfect as well - and there were loads.  I couldn't finish them all, which is unusual for me.  Double fried, fluffy, crispy, salty, perfect.

The Brewer half and I split mains.  Here's the Brewer half, nom-ing on his splitsie dish:

I was very impressed with the Potted Pig.  For £12 I could not think of a better place to lunch.  I would love to try their dinner menu sometime - while somewhat pricy I know I'm paying for quality of ingredients and quality of cooking. The restaurant itself has a great and unique atmosphere (bank vault!) and the staff were very professional while still friendly and attentive.  I'm certainly excited for a repeat visit.

029 2022 4817
27 High St  
CF10 1PU

June 23, 2013

Caerphilly 10k Race - race report!

This morning I got up at stupid o'clock so I could register for the inaugural Caerphilly 10k.  I arrived in Caerphilly at 8am and got my registration pack - since the race didn't start till 10 it was pretty empty at 8am!
The starting pen had timing posts to organize us - the first post was 30 minutes.  I stuck myself by the last post at 1 hour plus.  I estimated 1 hour 7 minutes, but I've never done a 10k before so I didn't have any real idea of what it would be like.
I decided to go for a little wander before the race started.  Caerphilly is home to the second largest castle in the UK, and one of the most photogenic castles as well!
There were bicycle machines out for us to use and I warmed up for a few minutes to get ready, by the time I got back to the start there were loads more people milling around...
This race was super exciting because I got both a race number and a timing chip!
There were also loads of people in costumes, I saw a whole karate team.  There was also a Pie from Peter's Pies Running the race, and for being a massive pie he was pretty quick!
The start of the race was awesome, all penned in and ready to go, a massive countdown, and that moment when you cross the start and your timing chip starts timing is such a rush! 

I started okay but after less than 1k I had the worst stitch I've ever had. It felt like someone was stabbing me in the side.  I thought I was going to be sick, and like I couldn't breathe.  It was, in a word, terrible.  I dropped back pretty quick but kept jogging, I couldn't quite stand upright and I hope I don't have to see any photos of me because I was probably doing a hideous hunched over loping motion.

After about 5k I started to feel a bit better, and at 7k I had picked up the pace a little and was starting to pass people as they slowed down or walked.  I was too afraid of getting another cramp to drink any water, but there were at least 3 water stations on the course that I could have stopped by.

By 7k I felt good, and I had a pretty steady pace to the end.  I even did a proper sprint finish, which  made me feel that I probably didn't put enough into the race.

I came in at 1:11:40, and was very pleased with my time!
The whole race was organized really well - in addition to a race number and medal I got a bag of goodies including a water bottle and a wrist band!  There were loads of marshalls and everyone was super friendly. There were 1,700 people racing and I came in around 1400 so I was faster than 300!

And, most importantly, I was faster than everyone who didn't race at all!

Did I mention how awesome it is that I live where there are castles?
(I'm not strangling myself, I'm showing off my medal!)

So that's the story of my first 10k!  I really liked it and would love to do another soon.   This was the first time Caerphilly has done a 10K and it was an amazingly well organized and fun event to participate in.  Looking forward to more!

June 22, 2013

Chucks Chicken and Burgers - Pop Up Restaurant in Cardiff - Review

Last week some friends and I ventured to the newest restaurant in Cardiff: Chucks Chicken and Burgers.

Chucks is a pop-up restaurant - it's opened in the old dairy building in Pontcanna and will only be around for 3 weeks.  They have some incredible support behind them - Milgis do the mixed drinks, Beer is from Pipes and Tiny Rebel,  Desert is from Joes ice cream.  Fresh artisan rolls from Fabrice the French Baker in Hereford.  Cig Lodor provides all the meat, straight from the farm in Pembrokeshire.
Local meat, local bread, local companies all working together. This pretty much sounded like my dream food experience.

On arrival we found our friends enjoying their Milgis cocktails in a makeshift bar area.  Brewer half went to the bar to pick out a pint, I was so excited to try some more lovely Tiny Rebel beers but unfortunately they were sold out of all of them.  Instead I had a Pipes Helles Lager, which was very tasty and perfectly matched to the burger I was about to enjoy!
The only problem with the ambiance was the very loud music blasting from the very large speakers, but maybe that's just a sign of me being old.  I'm not sure though, because I snapped this picture and it seamed that no one wanted to sit near the speakers.  
We all ordered burgers - I had the Royal with Cheese because nothing beats a cheeseburger!  All the burgers were £8+ and it was an extra £2 for fries. 

There were a number of sides on offer, including fried pickles, but since I've already had the best fried pickles ever  (Penguin Diner in South Carolina!)  I decided not to order them here.

40 minutes later our burgers arrived. Presentation was excellent:
Unfortunately this is where the meal went sad... the burger just didn't stand by itself.  Somehow all the amazing ingredients, all the amazing talent, all the inspiration and all the design and produced something that tasted... average. 
The overwhelming taste from the burger was veg - which is great because I love veg, but with this quality of meat I should have been drowning in tasty beef.  The meat wasn't overcooked, it was very pink, but I still couldn't taste anything special.  I could barely taste the burger at all.  Brewer half thought it had a "twang of processed meat", I just thought it was unremarkable.

In contrast, my favourite burger from America is from 5 Guys:
Messy, meaty, hand made burgers.  No fuss, just mess.  Taste!

Unfortunately my friends were all pretty unhappy with their burgers as well.  The hungriest in our group got what could only be described as a "smattering" of fries - we counted 16 fries.  For £2 he was (understandably) displeased.

Onion rings didn't hold up any better unfortunately, the breaded outside was mushy and greasy - I'm not sure if they spent too long in the frier?
I've never been more sad to not like a place.  The idea is great, the backing is amazing, the collaboration is brilliant.  Cardiff NEEDS more creative food outlets and I really hope some other fabulous options come through.  Chucks, unfortunately, does not live up to it's potential.  But I'm still thrilled to see
these type of restaurants coming into Cardiff and I'm excited to go support the next one.  

I would recommend going to Chucks to see and support Cardiff's local food scene.  Go for the beer, the ambiance, the quirk!  Go to support the local butchers and the creative use of a unique space.  Just don't necessarily go for the burgers. 

The Old Dairy
200 Kings Road

June 20, 2013

The Divine Things In Life - Yoga and Divine Mint and Dark Chocolate

Today was a rest day, sort of.  I haven't been to Yoga forever and decided to give it a go. Even though all I wanted to do at 6pm was lie in bed and/or watch TV I dragged myself into ridiculous yoga clothes and headed down to Daves Gym for Yoga with Tori.
I figured once I was dressed like a person who was going to do Yoga I would feel more like a person who was going to do yoga.  It kind of worked.  BTW, the Yoga Pants there are from Old Navy, the number 1 clothes store that I miss from America.

Yoga with Tori was, as always, amazing.  Tonight we did loads of stretches for shoulders and quads and hamstrings.  It's like she knew I've been cycling and tailored the class to me!

After Yoga I came home and cooked myself an oven-dinner, as my hobs are currently not working.  Tonights oven dinner was rather two-toned:
Piri-piri chicken, grilled pepper, and tomato with balsamic vinegar.  It tasted like a healthy dinner, so I had to top it off with something else....
Brewer half is away with work at the moment, so I ate all the rest of our fancy chocolate.  This one was especially good!  Divine Chocolate do some fantastic chocolates, this Mint and Dark Chocolate combo is stunning - I love mint and I love dark chocolate.  We bought this one from Spice of Life last week, so it's good going we didn't eat it all on day 1!

In other news, I'm debating whether to enter the Caerphilly 10k this weekend.  Weather is looking rubbish but running in the rain is better than cycling in the rain!!

June 19, 2013

Running, Mary Kate Olson, and Cake (a Wednesday Post)

I am not going to lie to you people, I am having an awesome week.

Actually I think I'm having a fairly normal week, but having just come home from cycling and eaten a load of tasty food I am being a revisionist historian and having an awesome week!

Yesterday I convinced myself to go for a run.  I have done very little running this month.  My legs felt very heavy from track cycling.  But I still forced myself to go out.  I was slow, and I gave up after 3.3 miles.  Then I tried again, and gave up after .5 miles.  But it's still much better for me than not running at all!

While procrastinating on running I took this picture.

Cardiff is sooo pretty!!!

Then this morning I went to the gym with personal trainer GERAINT!  It was good, gym is hard, 7:30am is early.  I'm doing the bench press with the routine now! I do 4 sets of 8 reps with 44lbs (20kg) but I think I can do more.

I used to like the bench press a lot and it was always my goal to press 77 pounds 

Why 77 pounds?

Because that's the weight Mary Kate Olson was when she went into rehab in 2004!
Yup, I've always (since 2004) dreamed of bench pressing that gap-mouthed 90's twin.  

But that's a tangent!  Tonight I went cycling with Cardiff Tri.

Cycing with Cardiff Tri was fun.  I am not a good sprinter, and I can only hold onto fast people's wheels for so long, and it's not long enough.  But the boys let me try to hold the wheel for a while before I would fall off and wait for the lights.  It was good training, but now I am so tired I'm debating whether I have the energy to eat cake....

Debate over, of course I have the energy to eat cake!!

June 17, 2013

Dark Chocolate and swimming: an update on my weekend.

I had a week off exercise.  It was fun.  I went to Scotland with work and I did work and I did not exercise at all.  I tried to eat healthy but I also ate a whole bar of dark chocolate because Asda sold me what I thought was a bar of 70% dark chocolate but was actually 70% cocoa solids and 30% crunchy bits of sugar and it tasted amazing.  In A bad way.  I like my chocolate dark... so dark.

How dark?  This dark:
On Sunday I overslept the Ajax ride so went to swim practice with Cardiff Tri instead.  Apparently my plan of not swimming for 6 months while everyone else swims loads for 6 months did not make me any better of a swimmer.  I was the slowest person in the slowest group.  I'm pretty sure a dude with 1 arm lapped me 3 times. 

I might by my parents this shirt, if I can find the right gendered one:
It was interesting because usually I kind of like all the exercise I do, but I really did not like the swimming at all.  However I now want to swim more, which is possibly a strange reaction.

In douch-y swimming news, I need to learn how to breathe bilaterally, before my clicky shoulders fall off entirely.

Did you know swimming was super complicated?  Look at this picture.  This is complicated:
And today I went track cycling again.  I did not crash.  I did not get a PB.  I cycled for 20 miles in a circle.  It was pretty fun.

June 13, 2013

Ajax Cardiff Summer Club 10 Time Trial Series (7.4 mile TT) - attempt 2

A few weeks ago the Summer series of the time trials started.  Time trials are a cycling things where you cycle a certain distance as fast as you can.  Then you do that same distance again the next week, and the week after.

The first week they set me off first, and I did my 7.4 miles in 24:50.  It was hard.

The second week they set me off first again, but this time I had three female riders following me.  Every one sets off a minute apart, which means that if you get passed whichever rider passes is that many minutes ahead.  My competitive nature sprung up more than before and I didn't want to get passed.

I was flying on the way out, my speedo was reaching 26mph and I was gunning it down the hills.  On the turn around I was hit by a blast of wind, and realized why the outward was so easy - the wind was now pushing me back and I was struggling to keep above 17mph on the flats.
On the final hill the first rider overtook me - but it wasn't one of the three girls, it was Ben, who had started in 5th and was now 4 minutes ahead of me and making silly faces:
I really didn't want to be passed again so I pushed hard  and was positively gasping when I crossed the finish line:
I knocked a minute off my time and came in at 23:40, which was about 18mph for the whole route.  The Time Trials run all summer and are only £3 to enter, they happen on Friday nights which is awesome for keeping me out of the pub!

Unfortunately this week I havent got my motivation back and have not been out since that time trial, but next week I am back on track and will try and knock another minute off my time next Friday!

June 9, 2013

Brewer Half's Half Brewed Reviews: NP10 from Tiny Rebel Brewery

I wrote this post a while back, but this weekend was an exciting one for the Tiny Rebel Brewery as they made a clean sweep of the Great Welsh Beer and Cider Festival, picking up gold, silver, and bronze!  It was also an exciting one for me, as I drank 2 NP10s at the Tiny Rebel takeover of Fire Island which is one more 10% beer than I can really handle.  A good weekend for Tiny Rebel and a good weekend for me too!

The other day Brewer Half and I decided to co-write a beer review.  That lasted about 3 minutes until I remembered how bossy I am.  So instead we each decided to write two reviews of the same beer.  And that beer was...

NP10 from Tiny Rebel Brewery!

Without further adoooo.....

The Brewer Half's Half Brewed Review!

As soon as I heard that Tiny Rebel were going to make a Belgian-style beer, I was eager to give it a go. Attempting this style of beer, which is one of the pinnacles of brewing craft, is brave and possibly foolish, and I wanted to see what Tiny Rebel had to offer. 

A rich fruity nose, with hints of banana and mango, instantly recall the Belgian Trappist style of beer. The head was initially thick and creamy, but not very long-lasting. 

For the style, this has a very light, fruity body, and initial heavy fruit flavours give way to an almost citrus finish.  High carbonation adds a little pepperyness to the flavour, and leaves a lingering fruity sparkle in the mouth. Hop flavours are almost non-existant, only adding a little punch to the initial fruity bite, and gently fading away.

Lingering fruit flavours remind of the great beer just tasted.

Packs a powerful alcoholic punch, and there is much less of the heavy, malty body usually present in this style, but is a refreshing change because of it.

This is one of my favourite beers Tiny Rebel have produced. This is most definitely a Belgian style strong ale, but instead of trying to reproduce it exactly, they knew when to deviate from the style and add their own light, citrus-fruit twist. It shows a great versatility of the Tiny Rebel brewers, in contrast to a large number of their other, hop-heavy beers (not that I'm complaining, I love hops!).

And now my review too, because I can write a about beer too (maybe)

NP10 greets you with clear deep yellow tones and a subtle head that disappears almost instantly.  On first whiff it smells rich, like tropical fruits, mango or banana.

It hits the tongue with a sparkling burst of fizz, slightly sweet and lightly carbonated.

The taste is bright and fresh - clears the palette quickly but with the lingering taste of a well made high ABV.  If I didn't know better I would think NP10 is a fine belgian beer - there is no aftertaste, just the subtle bitterness that make you want another sip.  It hits the pallet evenly, a prefect balance of flavours.  Slightly spicy, slighly sweet, lightly carbonated.  You can taste the hops but it's not overbearing - balanced is the word I come back to sip after sip.

Too many sips and I'll think of more words - at 10% this beauty is STRONG!

Tiny Rebel have it spot on with NP10.  It's one of the finest Belgium-style beers I've tasted - it's everything good from Belgium with everything great about Tiny Rebel.  It's also a clear departure from their other beers, with a real emphasis on the subtle balance rather than the hoppy treats like FUBAR.

I will certainly be enjoying a lovely NP10 again!  Good thing it's a bit pricey (£4 a bottle!) as I could easily enjoy a few too many..

Tiny Rebel

June 7, 2013

La Creperie de Sophie - Crepes and Cider night

The Brewer half and I attended the Crepes and Cider night at Creperie de Sophie.  I saw it advertised when I went for lunch the other week and it looked like a fun way to spend an evening in town - a 3 course crepe meal and cider for £18
On the night we were greeted with a glass of Cider each, served in a mug
More cider could be purchased for £6.50 per bottle - we ordered 2 more that evening.  It would have been nice to have a little more cider included in the £18, but £6.50 for a bottle wasn't too steep (it was apparently on offer that night)

We were brought out a plate of Crepe appetizers
Brewer half loved them - delicious selection of chutney and cheese, chicken and cheese, and cheese and ham.  Yum!  We were quite hungry by the time we ordered!

Brewer half order the Paysan - Garlic mushrooms, herbs, cheddar cheese and red onions
I had that one last time so ordered the Barn instead - Egg, cheese, onion, and leaves
Again they were cooked to perfection.  Crunchy, tasty, melty, savory crepes. Delicious with a nice teacup of cider too!
For dessert we were given 3 options, Brewer half picked chocolate-banana-almond for him and chocolate-strawberry-almond for me.  So decadent!

I couldn't believe I was able to eat all the crepe - I'm sure that's about a weeks worth of calories but it was all oh-so good.  It was also nice to be in what felt like a "secret" restaurant - there were only about 16 of us there and each table was served one after the other.  I was amazed they got the food out so quick, also there was definitely a wait between the first and last table to be served.  Luckily we were first.  Crepes don't really lend themselves to set service - since you can really only make a few at a time.  Still the 2 staff did really well to keep everyone well fed and happy.

Before desert we did a little quiz and the manager told us about the history of La Creperie de Sophie.  Apparently they are becoming quite the pancake empire soon!  We were all given a little bag of pancake mix to take home and try, and the team that won the quiz got a bottle of cider for free.  

At the end of the night they also let us make our own crepes!  Brewer half gave it a go and I documented the event:
His crepe didn't turn out too bad!  It was a little soggy in the middle though, but maybe eventually Brewer Half will be Crepe-making Half?!  Though Brewer Half does have a better ring to it.

It was a good night and we certainly had our fair share of crepes to enjoy!  I would recommend booking a place on the next night if you can - it's definitely a unique evening in Cardiff!

June 5, 2013

I love cycling.

I forgot something a few months ago - I forgot I love cycling.

It was cold and wet and dark, and I was cold and wet and on a bike, and I did not enjoy the rides.

I went out with Ajax a bit, but I was pretty certain that the best part of biking was when I stopped being on a bike.  My favorite part of the sunday ride was finishing the Sunday ride.

However this has changed now!


Because we are having awesome weather here in wales.  A full week of glorious sunshine!

On Monday I tried Track Cycling for the first time - Ajax run sessions and let you borrow bikes for only £2!  The bikes are all fixed wheel and it's a great chance to push until you can't push anymore - if you fall off the back you can get back on when the group comes around again.

We played a load of fun cycling games - sometimes 2 groups would start on opposite sides of the track and try to catch up with the group in front, sometimes a larger group would pursue a smaller and faster group.  There were some silly races at the end (I'm pretty sure I came in last) but all in all it was a really fun session.  With a very silly looking map:

In other news, I found a picture of me getting help putting my "race" number on from the Barnardos ride:

And here's a picture of me from Saturdays Parkrun!
This is one of the better running photos I've seen of myself.  It was right next to one of the most horrific running photos I've seen of myself.  But also, it's better than the first parkrun photo of me (which is also a bit horrific!)
Sunshine is meant to be ending next week... then it's going to be raining again :( So I better enjoy while I have the chance!