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Merry Christmas Gif

Are you tired of the turkey, stuffing and sprouts that constitute the classic Christmas dinner? Have you run out of boxed sets to while away the inevitable Christmas afternoon slump? Is the obligatory Snowball not hitting the spot? Fed up of people asking questions? Don’t worry, I have 5 ways to help you give this Christmas a kick up the backside and make it one to remember for all the right reasons… But before that the team at MEETinLEEDS would like to wish you a…

Merry-Christmas-MiL

The Christmas Dinner

Now don’t get me wrong: I love turkey. Couple it with pigs in blankets, a good stuffing and a dash of cranberry and you are on to a winner. Sprouts though, for me, can do one…

However, after watching “The Sopranos”, and by turn the river of delicious food that passed before me on screen, I decided that a Sopranos Style Christmas Dinner was in order. You can buy the cookbook, which would make an excellent Christmas present (but if you can’t wait there are some links to the recipes below).

The centrepiece is Carmela’s Lasagne: a behemoth of a pasta dish and not one for the faint of heart, but absolutely delicious. The sides are Melanzane Parmigiana (a baked aubergine dish), tomato salad and something green (I did grilled asparagus. Mmmm). It is quite a bit of preparation but most of it can be done beforehand, leaving you to enjoy the spoils with a nice Chianti or Barolo for the full wise-guy effect. The biggest worry is the gargantuan amount you will stuff your face with, but that’s what Christmas is for, right?

Honourable Mention: If you have your heart set on the traditional bird, why not give it a French twist and do a turkey-au-vin (this version is delicious)? Pair it with tartiflette, a French Alpine potato gratin made with the pungent yet mouthwatering reblochon cheese (this recipe isn’t half bad, but I prefer the thinly sliced potatoes in the traditional gratin style). A few sautéed greens and braised red cabbage for the Christmas vibe and you will not be disappointed.

The Drink of Choice

Snowballs are lovely. Well, once a year anyway. But if twisting the crusty cap off the Advocaat has made you a bit queasy and itching for something new, then try a Pisco Sour.

A cocktail of South American origin (though Peruvians and Chileans disagree as whose national drink it is, I prefer the Peruvian style: sshhh) combining Pisco, a kind of brandy, with lime juice, sugar syrup, egg white and Angostura bitters. After trying a few, this recipe is the one I found to be the most simple and delicious:

pisco-sour-881010_640Ingredients (Per serving)

  • 50ml Pisco
  • 1 egg white
  • 3 drops of Angustura bitters

For the Sour Mix

  • 30ml lime juice
  • 20ml sugar syrup

Method

  • Put all the ingredients (excluding the Angostura bitters) in a blender with 3 or 4 ice cubes and blend until smooth
  • Carefully hold the froth back with the lid of the blender and pour the liquid into a chilled glass; you will still end up with a drink with a good head of foam. To serve, add 3 drops of bitters.

A Pisco Sour is very similar to a Snowball in the use of egg and a derivation of brandy, but the fresh lime gives it a really refreshing zang as opposed to the claggy, sweet Snowball.

hot-chocolateOnce you have perfected your technique you can even get involved in Pisco Sour Day on 6th February 2016!

Honourable Mention: What better way to end the day than with a Salted Caramel Rum Hot Chocolate. I know, and it is as good as it sounds.

The Boxed Set

We all know that Christmas telly is a bit of a mixed bag, but now we live in the age of the boxed set, and with online streaming platforms hosting tonnes of content there is no need to slog through the Queens Speech and “It’s A Wonderful Life”.

The king of the boxed sets has to be “The Wire”: if you haven’t seen it I am genuinely jealous. If only I could delete it from memory and watch it fresh again. I will not give away any spoilers (I hate reading the synopsis on the back of DVD’s) so you can enjoy every surprise…

Set in Baltimore, Maryland, it is about, well, everything. From the opening scene, when “Snot Boogie” gets killed for stealing the pot from a crap game, I was hooked, as were a growing legion of fans.

It is the perfect binge watch, a tapestry of perfect character development, Shakespearean tragedy, social and political commentary, farce, comedy (“The Bunk” in the bathroom: watch and you will know), bad guys, good guys, good bad guys, gangsters, dirty cops, lying journalists, serial killers: everything.

It is no-holds-barred gritty, some of the dialogue will have you reaching for the remote for the rewind-and-subtitle option (the Baltimore accent is a tough nut to crack), and the pacing can appear snail-like at points, but the tension is ratcheted up in each episode to some satisfactory (and some heart breaking) denouements in the numerous stories that are woven together.

Watch it. Now. I will happily pop around with the popcorn and watch it with you.

Honourable Mentions: “The Sopranos” is a close second when it comes to boxed sets. It’s like the best gangster film you have seen but 72 hours long. And that is a good thing.

“F is for Family”, the new animated comedy from American comedian Bill Burr is out in time for Christmas. Expect dark humour, bad language and a politically incorrect view of the world. All of the good stuff…

The Music

If the world hears another Band Aid feeding the world in yet another guise it will surely be sucked into a black hole of sanctimony.

There are some greats in the canon of Christmas songs (looking at you Jona Lewie, Bing Crosby and David Bowie) but if you want a break from the straining of Wizzard and Slade I can suggest “A Christmas Album” by Bright Eyes.

It may not be to everyone’s tastes: Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst) has a quaking, sneering voice that is like marmite (it took a while to grow on me) but his renditions of the Christmas classics “Blue Christmas” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” are right up there with the best.

All of the proceeds from albums bought on the Saddle Creek Label website go to the Nebraska Aids Project, so you can enjoy the music in the knowledge you are supporting a good cause.

Probably not an album you will want to put on in the middle of the party, but perfect for the more contemplative hours, possibly after stuffing yourself with Lasagne, before grabbing a(nother) Pisco and listening to…

Honourable Mention: “A Motown Christmas” has to be the most upbeat set of tunes going and is a perfect partner to the more reflective Bright Eyes. The Jackson 5, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and more. What’s not to love.

The Event

nutcracker-577161_640I know that most people (me included) like to stop in around Christmas, but what could be more festive than catching a rendition of the Nutcracker? After all, it is panto season. Oh no it isn’t! Stop that. As we were saying, it is panto season so why not go a little more highbrow and join Clara and her Nutcracker Prince in an enchanting winter wonderland for the ultimate in festive entertainment.

The fantastic Northern Ballet has a number of dates at the Leeds Grand Theatre if you are in Yorkshires finest city, but there is sure to be a showing near you so get out and enjoy yourself!

 

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Ryan Johnson

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The title may be a little misleading. Sadly, not all of the MEETinLEEDS team got the opportunity to go to the beautiful coastal city of Cape Town. Only Ryan, famous for a gruelling Personal Training session at The Edge, was lucky enough to escape the winter climes of Leeds for the sun bathed beaches of South Africa. Here he shares a few tips about the place that tops the New York Times list of 52 Places to Go in 2014.

“Just like the MEETinLEEDs team are worth shouting about, the Capetonians are an incredibly friendly set of folk and deserving of vocal praise”

First of all I never really wanted to go. Well, I am lying. Once I found out there was an opportunity to stay in such a beautiful place for 3 months, I jumped at the chance. But I never entertained the thought of going to South Africa before this point: there were probably 182 places (approximately) on my “bucket-list” of exotic destinations above the place that is frequently portrayed, shall we say, negatively. However, once I started bragging to people that I was off to live the life of Riley for 3 months, I found out that everybody had been to Cape Town. Everybody. Even my dad, who never mentioned his escapade previously. Why the big secret? After just 1 week (and further confirmed in the following 11) I found out why… They wanted all of this to themselves:

 

It’s Cheap

Being from Yorkshire, I am careful with money: if I drop a pound, it hits me on the back of the head. Which is why the fiscal features of any destination are at the top of my list. Cape Town does not disappoint: everything is as good value and quality as a Slice of Summer menu from Great Food at Leeds. There are about 17 rand to the pound, and a main course at a high end restaurant will set you back an average of 150 rands. That’s 8 quid. And I am talking fillet mignon, not needing to fill up on Mcdonald’s after.

 

Delicious Food

Like most conference delegates anticipating the Gala Dinner, eating is in my top 5 pastimes. I have sampled steak in Les Halles, New York. I have mange’d moules and frites in Bastille, Paris. I have carved cuy in Cusco, Peru. But never have I eaten so well as here. From the local Springbok (think venison) and Yellowtail to internationally-recognised staples such as dim-sum and pizza, the best of them I have eaten has been in Cape Town, full stop. If you are in town I implore you to book a table at Bistrot Bizerca, then try and resist the temptation to go back the next night to eat that other thing you were going to order. They also take part in the Street Smart initiative, an excellent cause where you can donate to charities helping children on the streets of South Africa (of which there are many). Guilt free gourmandery at it’s very best.

 

The-Gin-Bar

Wonderful Wine (and Gin)

I have always enjoyed wine, but for me it always fell into the two categories espoused by Julius Caesar: thumbs up or thumbs down. After 3 wine tours I now have the palate of Michel Roux Jr. Okay, more Greg Wallace. The climate of the Cape Winelands, as suggested by the name, is ideal for growing all of the wines you know from the famous regions of France, Argentina, Australia or those available from University House. The Sauvignon Blanc is so crisp I expect Gary Linekar to pop up on every sip. They do renditions of sparkling wines that are made in the same method as in the Champagne region, but for a fraction of the cost. I have to doff a cap to the quaffs available at Annandale Vineyard. The proprietor, former South African International Rugby player Hempies Du Toit, has a delicious array of red wine, each of which is aged for around 8 years in French oak barrels. Try finding one of those in your local supermarket.

“You can fly to Cape Town from the Leeds Bradford Airport, via either Amsterdam or London. If you go from Leeds and need to stay overnight, why not book a night at Storm Jameson Court, just a 20 minute taxi ride from the airport”

 

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If you are more of a gin lover, you will not be disappointed. Cape Town has a growing number of local distilleries offering a range of tipples. The unnamed gin bar, reached by walking through a chocolate shop, is one such retreat. To find out more about this mysterious place, enter your email here. It is well worth the treasure hunt, as Ollie and Angie mix some unusual but uniformly excellent cocktails, designed to cure the ills of modern life. The relaxed, speak-easy nature of the bar and adjoining courtyard make it the perfect place for drinks before dinner or to while away a warm summer evening.

 

Outdoors and Activities Aplenty

For those of you that enjoy the great outdoors or exercising at The Edge (remember, all MEETinLEEDS delegates get free entry to the state-of-the-art sports facilities!), Cape Town is the place for you. Take a relaxing walk around the tranquil Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, or take the hike up Table Mountain and catch your breath at the top with the breathtaking views. For wildlife lovers a safari is a must, as you can get within touching distance of the Big 5 Game Animals.

For the more athletic among you, Cape Town annually host’s one of the World Triathlon Series events, which was won this year by University of Leeds alumnus and Olympic Gold Medal winner Alistair Brownlee. If you are not a professional athlete (like me), the Cape Town Cycle Tour offers the largest timed cylcing event in the world over 109km. Get competitive and vie for a podium position, or just enjoy the day and the spectacular scenery as you pedal.

 

Friendly, Funloving People

Just like the MEETinLEEDs team are worth shouting about, the Capetonians are an incredibly friendly set of folk and deserving of vocal praise. I have been invited to Braai’s (the Afrikaans name for a barbecue), free tours of the neighbourhoods, personalised wine tours, best sandwich tours, and even to join the Iron Man (which I politely declined on account of not wanting to drag the team down). The city and people are coming to terms with the still-fresh repercussions of apartheid, with an overriding sense of community and excitement for the future exuded by the majority of locals, which is the exact message extolled by the country’s favourite son, Nelson Mandela. There is a diverse mix of people living in the City Bowl, and millions more on the Cape Flats that extend to the south-east of the city.

They take their leisure time very seriously, too. Take a stroll down Long Street on an evening and try not to stay out all night partying. Go down Bree Street on First Thursday and catch some local art along with excellent street food. Chill out with people in the know on the beaches at Clifton, rather than the windy tourist trap at Camps Bay.

You can fly to Cape Town from the Leeds Bradford Airport, via either Amsterdam or London. If you go from Leeds and need to stay overnight, why not book a night at Storm Jameson Court, just a 20 minute taxi ride from the airport.

Whatever you do, add Cape Town to your must go places: you will not be disappointed.

Ryan and Matt

1.-Ryan-and-Matt

It began as a mistake…

My heart is keeping a hummingbird’s wing tempo, lungs twist like wrung out sponges, sweat streams in Amazonian proportions and I have skin you could fry an early morning breakfast on. I look at the clock: 12 minutes? Only 12 minutes gone? That leaves – my endorphin riddled brain attempts calculation – 48 minutes still to go!

Make an excuse and leave. You have a meeting. A family emergency. Fake a faint. From the glance you caught in the wall mirror a horizontal embrace with the floor is in the post anyway. Anything to stop hopping backwards and forwards. In fact what you are really doing is using your bodyweight to scuff your feet the short distance over the line and back again line, to call it a hop insults the locomotive feats of the kangaroo…

Wait, this seems confusing, let’s rewind to a few weeks earlier for context:

During a social outing between team MEETinLEEDS and our fellow employees at The Edge, our Health & Fitness Centre (the largest fitness suite of any UK University), I blurt out that a good idea for a blog would be for me to have a Personal Training session and document the experience for your reading pleasure. Cue laughter from The Edge team, accompanied by glances at – what can loosely be described as – my unremarkable physique: rounded shoulders socketing two arm-like branches to a midriff that has been said to resemble a snake that has swallowed an egg. This is balanced on the scaffolding of two flamingo legs and stabilised by feet so flat they resemble gammon steaks. In fact, the only thing remarkable is that propulsion is possible from the ensemble.

I let the laughter die down. I had been thinking of a way to make an entertaining piece about the excellent facilities on offer at The Edge (which are free to use for every MEETinLEEDS delegate!) even though I am one of the last people you would see on the rowing machine grunting “99…100”. I have yet to decline a recline. I am not completely lazy, I have been known to snowboard, swim and even wave a badminton racket in anger, but a regular exercise regime has never appealed to my relaxed disposition.

Another reason for the laughter is that the previous foray into Personal Training from a member of MEETinLEEDS was successful if a little fraught, for reasons best left to the imagination: we may be experts in the realm of conferences and events, but we still have a thing or two to learn when it comes to physical fitness.

I get the feeling my verbal flatulence has been written off as a joke until Matt Fairhurst, Senior Fitness Instructor at The Edge Fitness Centre and fellow South Yorkshireman, stops laughing long enough to take me up on my offer.

Some of you will recognise Matt from Channel 4’s Jockey School, which focused on Northern Racing College, where he is a Jockey Fitness Instructor under the guise of ‘Rudy’. I know I did. And I remember Stacey from the show whimpering “He’s evil!” after being made to run around the horse paddock. ‘Rudy’ was less than impressed. “The racing trade’s exhausting… They want to grow up and toughen up.” This is what Matt says to teenage kids, not 30-year-olds who should know better.

Matt-and-BecksMatt began his career in the Armed Forces as a Rifleman, touring in Afghanistan. Upon his return he became a Physical Training Instructor in his native Doncaster, training new recruits operational fitness skills to hone their core strength and aerobic endurance.

His current role at The Edge involves a mixture of Personal Training sessions, Group Classes (such as Boxercise, Circuits and NTC) and assisting regular users on the gym floor, along with the administrative duties that come with a senior position.

He says that the experience of working in a variety of environments, including actual sports training, has informed both his training methods and his interpersonal skills, which are essential for Personal Training:

We aim to deliver a personal service with a tailored programme, adapted to your personal needs and circumstances. For example, if you want to build your core strength, we will create a programme focussing on weight training rather than aerobic to accomplish that. If you have an injury, we will tailor your regimen around that to aid recovery while still keeping you in shape and on target for your goals.

We also respond to your personality: I will have a 30-minute interview before we decide a programme to find out your needs and expectations from the sessions. From this, I will determine what kind of motivational techniques you need to achieve your goals.

For example, I have one client that I encourage in a fun, pleasant, yet still strict manner to gain a beneficial reaction. This is a tact I often take at the Racing College. Then I have another client straight after that responds positively from a more aggressive and robust approach, which is more or less the method I used when training soldiers in the Army.

I cannot overstate the fact that Matt’s comments come from experience and knowledge of the racing trade. He is not Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, he knows the hard work that is needed to reach the top of the trade. This is also true for Personal Training, as people of different levels will have different requirements from the service; from professionals looking to perfect their technique to beginners considering their first training steps. The Trainers know how to pace and structure a program to make it demanding yet fun and always beneficial to your physical wellbeing.

Summer Fair Marquee

University-Square-Marquee

More than 2000 of the world’s most knowledgeable medievalists descended on Leeds for the 21st annual International Medieval Congress at University of Leeds on 7-10 July 2014. It is the second time the event has been held on our campus, after many successful years at our former residence at Bodington Hall.

Travelling to Leeds from 57 countries, delegates took part in more than 1500 different talks and events, some of which were open to the public including a mock medieval village built in University Square. Here you could peruse and purchase the knee length leather boots that were very à la mode in the period, along metal-adorned horn trinkets, jewellery and many other types of handicraft.

The medieval village included historical demonstrations such as chain mail production, spinning, apothecary, falconry displays, musicians and a storyteller.

Knights-to-CameraA personal highlight was the “Battle of the Knights”; in which two valiant men donned armour weighing approximately 6 stone and traded blows with pollaxes in the afternoon heat, using techniques garnered from the circa 1400 French combat manual “Le jeu de la hache” (“The Play of the Axe” or “Axe Play”).

Ryan-and-Kes-3 Me and our KesI also had the honour of handling a European Kestrel, the species which found fame from the Ken Loach film “Kes”. Being from the same neck of the woods as young Billy Casper from the film, I felt that the Kestrel and I shared a bond of sorts, which can be seen as we both look at the camera in the same instant (right).

MEETinLEEDS’ event manager, Anthony Lowe said: “The Congress is a huge area of focus for our team every year and it continues to go from strength the strength.  This year we served around 3,000 meals a day with the refectory turned into a dining room and also served an authentic medieval feast, prepared in collaboration between the University Catering team and food historian Caroline Yeldham.”

When the time came for the catering team to whip up the medieval feast, cheese-stuffed eggs were among dishes on the menu. Other dishes included a lamb and kidney stew; not a million miles away from a Moroccan “Tagine”.

Marc Mottershead, Head Chef at University House, said the experience had been fascinating: “It’s not every day you get asked to recreate an authentic medieval feast.”

 

Marc-and-Axel Marc (left) with IMC Director Axel Muller

He added: “Instead of dull, uninspiring dishes, the recipes called for cloves and spices and really unusual combinations which are close to modern Middle Eastern cuisines. One of the biggest surprises was the recipe for Crespells, which turned out to be a medieval take on a doughnut!”

The International Medieval Congress is now Europe’s largest annual gathering in humanities; in the past 21 years, more than 21,000 papers have been presented to over 12,000 visitors, bringing more than £10 million into the city and surrounding areas.

It is always impressive to see such a large event make use of the wealth of facilities we are able to offer on campus, especially an event that had such a vibrant and friendly atmosphere. This was no doubt helped by the fact that the delegates got to stay in our high quality campus accommodation, make use of the many culinary talents of our Head Chef, wander around a medieval village and still get to the business-end of the event by attending inspirational conferences in our well-equipped meeting rooms.

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Regular readers of the MEETinLEEDS blog will remember that long ago (a week is a long time in the Digital Age) we pledged to show our support for Le Tour Yorkshire by cycling the entire Leeds to Harrogate stage of the Tour de France 2014, using spinning bicycles at the Edge Sports Centre.

For those of you that missed the story, here is a quick recap:

Along with our colleagues at the Edge, (all conference delegates and MEETinLEEDS residents at Storm Jameson Court get free access to the facilities at the Edge, remember!) and Great Food at Leeds, who provide catering for our conferences and events, the 20 riders each completed 9.5km to take us the 190km distance to the finish line. We calculated the total time it took us and then we will compare this to how the professionals fare on the 5th July!

“Team Leeds” ranged from novices to spin class teachers, travelling in pairs to instigate a bit of healthy competition. A full gallery of the photos from the day can be found on  our dedicated Tour de France page.

So without further ado, here is a rundown of the day (you can click on the images to make them larger)…

Marion-Tony-and-RobResidential Services took on The Edge in the opening pair, with Tony Hall posting a credible 24:43 for his 9.5km (bearing in mind Tony cycles into work, and at an hour that even the tweety birds are still napping. He hastens to add that he had the resistance on the bike set to high, and so did the equivalent of the Ilkley to Chelker Reservoir section of Stage 1) and his Sports counterpart Rob Wadsworth averaging 18:45 per 9.5km. We say averaging because Rob thought he may as well do 21.1km while he was on the bike. This was just after taking an hour long Spinning Class. We think he is going to enter the Tour de France team next year to join Froome, Wiggins and Boardman on Team Sky.

Lisa-and-Tilly-FinishNext up was MEETinLEEDS’ own Lisa Wood, who took on Tilly Hall of Great Food at Leeds. Tilly had also taken the same Spinning Class as Rob, forgetting she would be back on the bike within an hour, but posted an excellent time of 20:59, and was there to cheer Lisa over the line in 24:08. This was despite Lisa’s protestations that she could not do it (but still pedalling at the same time as pleading).

Alan-and-Nat-Face-offIt was an all MEETinLEEDS affair in the next round, as Alan Gallagher squared up against Natalie Ruecroft. Alan steamed over the line in 20’06” with Natalie shortly behind in 21:54. It was Natalie’s first time on a bike since her school days at Castleford High School, so she treated herself to a nice Mocha from the Edge Café to celebrate.

Matt-and-Helen-FinishMEETinLEEDS’ Digital Guru Matt Hamnett took on Helen Moulding of The Edge next. Helen crossed the line in 19:48, without even breaking sweat, while Matt’s effort to make 19:15 was manifested on his brow. “Fit people sweat more” was his mantra, in which case he could give Mo Farah a run for his money. Admittedly, your reporter did try to quiz him on the finer points of Digital Marketing throughout his 9.5km stint, which he answered with aplomb, if a little breathlessly.

Harriet-and-Luke-Fist-BumpIt was MEETinLEEDS vs The Edge as we passed lunchtime to hit the halfway stage,  Harriet Boatwright facing off with Luke Wilson from The Edge. The crowd anticipated Luke to be a strong contender and were proven right as he raced to the top of the leader board with a terrific 17:26. However, just 5 seconds later Harriet zoomed over the line and into second overall. This turned out to be the best time of the non-cyclists. Harriet put her amazing effort down to the pacing of Luke (“I just made sure my legs were spinning as quickly as his”) and pure grit.

Miek-and-KevWe then had a Financial Face-off as Kevin Stephenson and Mike Ferraby from the University of Leeds Finance Department. The partner-pacing effect came into play once more, Kevin hitting the 18 minute mark exactly and Mike not far behind at 18:35. Brilliant effort from the boys more accustomed to spreadsheets, budgets and other elements in the dark-arts of Accountancy.

As news of the event spread Paddy Craig of The Edge fame decided to try his hand (or legs) at the 9.5km mini-stage. As he didn’t have a cycling partner, I hopped on to help Paddy keep the pace. Unfortunately, he left me in his slip-stream and took the lead with a time of 15:56. After obviously taking a wrong turn somewhere I wheezed over the line in 19:52. I wrote this off as rustiness as the full extent of my training was walking to the chippy the night before.

As the competition heated up 2 pros stepped up to the plate, as Gary Butterfield from The Edge and Ricky Thompson of Great Food at Leeds straddled their stationary steeds in full cycling garb. They finished with times of 15:53 and 17:25 respectively. Gary is training for an Iron Man event in Australia, and took the lead with just 3 seconds between him and his closest rival. A special commendation goes to Ricky who not only posted a top time, but carried on for a full hour, completing a total of 30.9km!

Nick-and-Jo-FinishAnother member of the Finance Department, Nick Holdsworth, took to the saddle along with Jo Bayley, the PA to the Big Boss of MEETinLEEDS. After some good natured banter and ruddy faced exertion Nick crossed the line first in 18:53, taking time for a quick lay down as Jo breezed in with 21:33.

Tom-and-Ryan-Square-UpIt was time for me to make my practice run count, as I attempted to tackle Tom Exeter from The Edge. Now, Tom is a spinning instructor, and I am brilliant at spinning on my chair, so all I could do is try and do MEETinLEEDS proud and sabotage Tom by chewing his ear off. However, Tom had a plan: headphones. My plans scuppered, I endeavoured to beat my earlier showing. I looked over to my right after around 13 minutes, as there was some very audible exertion coming from Tom. After 14:04 Tom had crossed the finish line, reporters were scrabbling and pushing microphones in his face, asking how he felt after beating the 9.5km record by nearly 2 minutes. At least in my exhausted mind they were. 5 minutes later in a time of 19:23, I crossed the line, attributing my lack of a sprint finish to cramp (honestly).

Ian-And-Stew-FinishThe final 19km was a clash of the titans, as Stewart Ross, Head of MEETinLEEDS, took on Ian Robertson, Head of Residences. There was an obvious healthy rivalry (and excellent colour coordination with our background banners) as they took to the saddle and a look of determination on Stewarts face as he chased Tom’s record. After 9 and a half minutes Ian declared himself finished, much to the astonishment of the crowd. After an official adjudication, it was discovered that Ian had mistaken his time for the distance covered. Ian recovered and regained momentum to finish with a superb 17:40, while Stewart had already streaked over the line in 15:08, taking silver and a place on the podium.

It was time to tot up the totals and see how long it took us to cover the 190km of the Tour de France Stage 1. Drumroll please…

6 hours 18 minutes and 10 seconds was the total time of the top 20 of our 21 riders (sorry Tony, you missed the cut). This was at an average speed of 30.1 km/h.

Tour-De-France-2014-InfographicThe fastest average speed of the Tour de France is that of Lance Armstrong in 2005 at 41.7 km/h. However, our performance was only enhanced by Mocha and Espresso.

Our clear winner, Tom Exeter, had an average speed of 40.5km/h. If this was extended over the total 190km of the Leeds to Harrogate route it would give a total time of 4 hours 41 minutes and 28 seconds, which would give the peloton a run for its money. However, being privy to the colossal effort it took to keep up that speed for just 1/20th of the total distance makes you appreciate the dedication and preparation it must take to compete at the very top level.

A massive thank you to everyone involved in the event and roll on the 5th of July!

Do you think we have what it takes to beat Froome, Wiggins, Boardman and co over the finish line? Tune into the Tour de France and cheer on Team SKY. Better still come on down to Leeds and join in the fun!

 

For more information about the Tour de France and for some awe-inspiring images of our Homage Event you can visit our dedicated webpage here.

 

As denizens of the City of Leeds for in excess of a century between us, the MEETinLEEDS team is as well acquainted with the “Jewel on the Aire” as any Leodiensian (all but one of us were born and bred in Yorkshire; Matt hails from over the Pennines). We thought we could make the most of our hard earned knowledge by sharing some of our favourite places to visit in Leeds with you, our lucky reader.

If you are attending a conference held at the University of Leeds, are new to the city, need some inspiration, or visiting for any reason you could do worse than try one (or all!) of our suggestions. However, the list is not exhaustive (and are all based on personal experience and preferences, and in no way reflect any affiliation with the University of Leeds) so feel free to explore and enjoy the vibrant home of the Loiner.

1.    Marks & Spencer Penny Bazaar

Michael Marks arrived in Leeds as a Belarusian refugee, selling goods for a penny on the Leeds Kirkgate Market in 1884. By 1998, the Marks & Spencer Company became the first British retailer to make a pre-tax profit of over £1 billion, employing 82,000 people in 2013.

Marks__Spencer_original_penny_bazaar_24th_June_20131In March 2013 Marks & Spencer went back to where it all began and re-opened the Penny Bazaar on Leeds Kirkgate Market, selling memorabilia and selected product lines (though, unfortunately, not for a penny).

Visit the store and get a sense of the history that surrounds this British institution, and while you are there you can stroll around and grab a bargain, a bite to eat (I heartily recommend the Caribbean Café; jerk chicken and mac cheese is the perfect way to middle a day) or just mill around the largest indoor market in Europe.

Off the Beaten Track: If you want to know more about the history of M&S, their Company Archive has a collection of over 70,000 historic items and was unveiled at the Michael Marks Building in March 2012. Well worth a visit if you are on campus, the staff are very knowledgeable and best of all it is free!

2.    Whitelock’s Ale House

WHITELOCKS3484Is a visit to a new city complete unless it includes a visit to a local public house? Of course not is the answer, and in the home of John and Samuel Smith you are spoilt for choice. You could go for a no nonsense pint at the Fenton (apparent location for the formation of Leeds music scene legends Gang of Four), which is a mere foxtrot from the Parkinson steps, to a Taittinger soaked soiree at Épernay, where champagne flows by the Nebuchadnezzar.

But what better way to enjoy a flagon of the local brew than in Leeds’ oldest pub: the ubiquitous Whitelock’s Ale House. Situated in Turks Head Yard (the original name of the establishment until 1867 when John Lupton Whitelock put his name to the licence and above the bar) the dark wood and leather décor is highlighted by the multitude of mirrors and polished brass, illuminated by stained glass windows through which the milky light from the alley seeps in.

If Whitelock’s makes us come over all poetic, it is because it was a favourite haunt of the poet John Betjemen, who described it as “the Leeds equivalent of Fleet Street’s Old Cheshire Cheese and far less self-conscious, and does a roaring trade. It is the very heart of Leeds.” It has changed very little since Betjeman’s stint propping up the bar and is all the better for it.

Off the Beaten Track: The Reliance Bar & Dining Room is a 2 minute walk from the city centre but is perfect for an unpretentious pre-theatre dinner. Local ales, local food and home-cured charcuterie are their specialities, with a short but well-chosen wine list served by friendly and accommodating staff. The Pigs Cheeks are highly recommended for the adventurous diner.

3.    Trinity Leeds

Leeds has always been a bastion of shopping in the north. The Victoria Quarter is impressive not only for the amount of designer shops making their out of London debuts but also for the striking architecture. Built around 1900, designed by a theatre architect, the Burmantofts Pottery exterior is painstakingly detailed in a way that is oft neglected in new constructions.

 

Trinity-LeedsHowever, on 21 March 2013 Trinity Leeds opened, with a roof design that mimics the glass panelled roof of the Victoria Quarter while simultaneously blowing it out of the water with its sheer scale. The dome consists of 1902 panels over an area of 40,000 square feet and is large enough to fit the former centre of Leeds trade, the Corn Exchange, with room to spare. Under this monolith are 120 stores in which you can shop until no longer bipedally stable, safe in the knowledge that the Yorkshire weather cannot ruin the experience. When the time comes to refuel the Trinity Kitchen plays host to a carousel of eateries (some permanent, some temporary street food vans) to cater to any taste bud impulse.

It might not be a secret, but good things rarely are.

Off the Beaten Track: The Corn Exchange is very much on the beaten track, but if you hunt around the area you will discover some independent vintage clothes shops where bargains can still be found. If you are looking to add to your music collection, Crash Records and Jumbo Records are perfect places to while away the hours, flipping through the LP’s in the hunt for that first edition Wu-Tang Clan 36 Chambers, or whatever makes your particular vessel buoyant.

4.    The Refectory

Yes, it is one of our venues. Yes, we are slightly biased. Yes, we do realise that everyone who is anyone knows “Who” played there for their seminal “Live at Leeds” album. But when you are privy to a piece of local history you are entitled to shout about it. So we do.

Ian-DuryJust walking around the Refectory you can take in the history, the placards on the wall recalling historic moments that occurred within the confines of the main catering outlet at the University. Every day on my way to work I am greeted by the grimace of Ian Dury; waltz past Elton John; rub shoulders with Brian Ferry. Anyone and everyone are welcome to visit the Refectory and soak up the atmosphere while tucking into some of the delicious food on offer.

Nostalgia is not the only reason to visit the Refectory; it also serves as a venue to many gigs and is the main venue for the Live at Leeds annual festival, held on the May Bank Holiday. Up and coming local bands mingle with established acts to create an atmosphere that is as good – if not better – than any festival, without the need for wellies and face wipes (well, that is dependent on the weather holding out) and with easy access to the finer things in life (eating lunch with metal cutlery springs to mind).

No visit to Leeds is complete without closing your eyes in front of the stage area of the Refectory. With the right ears the clang of chords that open “Substitute” will resonate around the columns.

Off the Beaten Track: For filling food look no further than Fuji Hiro. A traditional Japanese noodle bar where value and gastrointestinal fulfilment are at the fore in a relaxed Formica-table dining-room. The dumplings are a delight. For music lovers the Belgrave Music Hall is a must, with great bands on most nights of the week and a New-York-style roof terrace, though the views are decidedly un-Manhattan. The canteen serves slices of pizza that would be at home on Fifth and 53rd.

5.    City Varieties Music Hall

Leeds City Varieties may be well known to our, ahem, older readers who enjoyed music hall and saw “The Good Old Days” between 1953 and 1983 on the BBC. After a major refurbishment in 2009, the theatre reopened in 2011 with the link to the excellent White Swan Inn re-established, making it a perfect hidden alternative to the elaborate and vertigo-inducing Grand Theatre.

 

City Varieties neon

Nowadays the music hall plays host to a litany of comedians, shows, orchestras, and popular music concerts. The intimate setting (just 467 seats in total) and virtually unchanged interior make this a piece of living history, while other music halls have crumbled and faded.

The theatre is listed at #3 on the attractions to visit in Leeds on TripAdvisor, so book early to avoid disappointment!

Off the Beaten Track: Hyde Park Picture House is another blast from the past, a real old school cinema where you can take a bottle of beer to your seat on the balcony and watch either a new release or a screening of a classic (I was fortunate enough to catch Dr Strangelove 37 years after its big screen debut). Well worth a visit and is just a 5 minute walk from the University campus.

Stay in Leeds!

Now that you’ve read about our favourite places in Leeds why not come and see them for yourself?  We have bedrooms available from just £44!*

Find out more on our Short Breaks page.

 

 
*at time of published article

Here at MEETinLEEDS our goal is to provide a conference and events service that doesn’t compromise our commitment to a sustainable University, as outlined in the Sustainability Strategy.

There are two areas that we have a direct impact on: the accommodation we offer for Residential Conferences and our partnership with Great Food at Leeds for the catering at events around the campus.

Lollo Rosso being harvested locally for our salad

Lollo Rosso being harvested locally for our salad

Our services blend the Living It Green campaign of Residential Services with the Great Food at Leeds policy of procuring ethical and sustainable food; with 65% of our suppliers being within 40 miles of the University (the bread served at the Refectory is baked by Fosters, which is a stone’s throw from where I grew up. The smell of freshly baked ice fingers sends me on a trip down memory lane akin to that described by Marcel Proust in Remembrance of Things Past). If you don’t think that this is very impressive, have a look at the origin of the items you fill your shopping basket with the next time you are at the super market: cucumber and rocket from Spain; tomatoes from Morocco; broccoli from Italy; lamb from New Zealand; the list is endless. The number of miles your food travels from origin to your mouth can be compared to that of the tennis balls used at Wimbledon (which were formerly made in my home town, not that I am trying to plug the fine place that is Barnsley!). Our support of, and reliance on, the local community and suppliers is just one of the many aspects that set us apart from the competition.

Both Residential Services and Commercial Services have signed up to membership of the internationally recognised Green Tourism Business Scheme. We currently have 10 service locations registered with the scheme, with 5 of our operational locations subject to an annual environmental audit.

All of our locations have been awarded either a Gold or Silver standard, which demonstrates our understanding of the importance of sustainable development and that the strategies and measures we have in place to guide our performance have us well on the way to becoming a Sustainable University.

If you are interested in planning a conference or event with strong environmental content MEETinLEEDS can offer the following:

 

Thanks to Mike Leonard, Property Manager, Residential Services, at the University of Leeds who provided the information for this article.

A Masterclass with Our Top Chef

Missing Masterchef? Bored of Fish and Chips? Want to impress your friends with an unctuous dessert but don’t know your mille-feuille from your macaroons? Don’t despair; we have the head chef Marc Mottershead on hand to guide you through two simple yet delicious recipes from his extensive repertoire.

MarcBev

A winning team for years to come- Marc and Bev in 1995 (left) and today (right)

Marc has worked as head chef at University House since 1995, preparing and serving the finest locally sourced ingredients to an array of stars and celebrated alumni: Judi Dench, Alan Bennett, Melvyn Bragg and the Olympic-winning Brownlee brothers to name but a few. Our Head of Catering and Conferences, Bev Kenny, can still remember the menu that Marc served up in the Invention Test” of his interview (his Lemon Tart was to die for”). His longevity is a testament to his skill and ability to create menus that are classic yet contemporary, catering to any delegates’ dietary requirements.

The seven rooms at University House have recently been refurbished with a contemporary decor and are extremely flexible; ideal for VIP meetings, formal sit down meals and receptions.

The standard of the rooms and high level of customer service, linked to superb catering, have given the venue a first-class reputation.

Marc may be a Manchester United fan (not so much these days”, he says, and you can see why), but we won’t hold that against him when he gifts us recipes like the two below on a regular basis. So when your parents/in-laws/friends/spouses/colleagues/guests on Come Dine with Me run out of superlatives for your culinary creations, you will know who to thank. But don’t be afraid to take the accolades and credit, after all, you did the leg work.

Grilled Sea Bass with Sauce Vierge

Perfect for the Indian Spring” we are having at the moment, enjoy with a good Sauvignon Blanc and good company. Serves 4.

Cooking time: 30 mins

Ingredients

50g melted Butter
4 Sustainably Sourced Sea Bass Fillets
100g seeded and finely chopped Cherry Tomatoes
2 tsp Capers
Juice of ½ Fairtrade Lemon
1 finely chopped Shallot (Red Onion can be used as alternative)
100ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Good handful torn Basil and chopped Chives to garnish

  1. Line a grill pan with foil and brush lightly with butter. Brush the Sea Bass with butter and season. Lay on the foil skin-side up.
  2. Put the tomatoes and shallot (or onion) in a pan with the capers, lemon juice and oil. Season.
  3. Grill the Sea Bass for 5-7 minutes (depending on thickness of the fillets) under a hot grill until just cooked and the skin is starting to brown. Meanwhile, warm the sauce through for 2 minutes then stir in half of the torn basil leaves. Lift the Bass onto warmed plates using a fish slice and spoon over the sauce. Serve with steamed new potatoes, dressed with a little butter and the remaining basil and chives. Season and serve.

Chef’s top tip: when you have chopped onions, garlic or hot peppers, wash your hands with cold water, rather than hot. This will stop the flavour cooking” onto your hands and intensifying the smell.

Super Gooey Chocolate Brownie

Everybody claims to have the perfect Brownie recipe; well we have the best of the best. This is perfect for birthday parties or as a dessert to the Sea Bass (serve with mascarpone ice-cream). But its best kept for a lazy weekend with nothing to do but make coffee and watch box sets. Serves 12 greedy people with healthy appetites and a sweet tooth.

Cooking time: 50 mins

Ingredients

350g Caster Sugar
6 Eggs
350g melted Butter
125g best Cocoa Powder, sieved
125g sieved Flour
350g dark Fairtrade Chocolate
100g chopped Hazelnuts (or any nut that tickles your fancy)
100g White Chocolate, broken into chunks

  1. Crack the eggs into a large bowl and whisk. Gradually add the caster sugar and whisk until combined. Then add the melted butter and again whisk until combined.
  2. Continuing to whisk the mixture, steadily add the flour and cocoa. Ensure that you do not add too much at once or the mixture will become lumpy.
  3. Melt the dark chocolate, either in a bowl over a pan of boiling water or in the microwave (check regularly if using the microwave as you do not want the chocolate to burn). Stir this into the mixture.
  4. Add the nuts and white chocolate and stir through for an even distribution. Transfer to a large baking tray (around 40x25x4cm) or several smaller trays which have been lined with greaseproof paper, smoothing the mixture into the corners of the tray with a spatula.
  5. Cook at gas mark 5 (180-190 Celsius) for 30 minutes. Pull the shelf out a bit and gently shake the tray. If the brownie wobbles in the middle, it’s not quite done, so slide it back in. You want the centre to bee moist and gooey but not wet, so there will be a glossy crust”. If it is not fully cooked allow up to 10 more minutes, checking after 5.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tray. Slice while still in the tray, remove and transfer to an airtight container.

Chef’s top tip: If you want to make some to hide away for a special occasion, it’s useful to know that they’ll keep in an airtight container for a good two weeks and in the freezer for up to a month.

To make a booking at University House you can contact one of our event organisers:

We will be happy to help you with your enquiry.

As you’ve no doubt read already, September 1st 2013 saw the University of Leeds host its very first wedding fayre at Devonshire Hall.

This was a project that the sales and marketing team had begun working on only 3 weeks prior to the fayre taking place so needless to say, those 3 weeks were jammed packed with planning and also excitement! Who doesn’t love a good wedding?!

WeddingCars

The lead up to our very own big day saw new MEETinLEEDS web pages createdregular tweets and Facebook statuses and an advertising campaign taken out with the Yorkshire Post. One of the newspaper adverts even featured an interview from yours truly – a very proud moment for my mother I’m sure!

The day itself was a huge success. With over 40 brides in attendance, wedding cars displayed in the courtyard, the live band playing and the foyer filled with exhibitors the day had a fantastic atmosphere. It really was a brilliant day that everyone enjoyed, including the MEETinLEEDS staff who dressed up for the occasion complete with button holes and corsages courtesy of our exhibiting florist.

As a result of the fayre so far we have 3 happily confirmed brides and more enquiries in the pipeline waiting to confirm The University of Leeds’ very own Devonshire Hall as their dream wedding venue.