I am not a great believer in new year resolutions. Just because we get past the 1st of Jan doesn’t connect with me thinking I have to make radical changes. I was once told that if you say DON’T do something then you are programmed to ignore the “don’t”. It is probably some management rubbish but I prefer to stay positive and think about doing rather than not doing.

But the first week of January is a great time to take stock of what is working in my life and doing more of that. For me turning fifty seemed a bigger milestone than new year and I persevere with my 50 things at 50 resolve. My friend pointed out that if I do one thing a week then I will get there but somehow that seems too regimented for me so I am going with spontaneity at the moment and not panicking just yet that I might not get to fifty. I don’t think doing more cooking is actually on the list as it is old news but I started this year wanting to continue making good foods for my body.

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I was telling my nephew and niece all about Donna Hay today as I am finding her posts and books a great day to day approach at the moment. She seems to bring sanity into the healthy arena and has such a breezy sunny way which must be partly down to her Aussie roots. My Christmas angel added her latest book to the parcels and it is already getting my cookery going. Her approach is clean, simple, tasty food with a short ingredients list and everything is pretty quick to make. It is perfect for me.

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Whilst I try to keep a healthy and balanced diet there is no doubt that I do have a sweet tooth and this is a challenge. At the end of a meal I desire a little sweet something and it seems that good ol’ Donna’s bliss balls are the perfect thing. I have tried her recipe before but didn’t like the combo of coconut oil with cacao so today I just adapted my own recipe inspired by hers. I substituted almond butter for the coconut oil and just chucked that, some soaked skin on almonds, cacao and the 4 remaining dates going soggy on my fruit bowl into a magi mix and hey presto….a professional looking treat ready in my fridge for those cravings. It’s amazing how so few ingredients can go such a long way. No wonder Donna calls them bliss. I take one to work for that 3pm lull which is especially dangerous since I sit above a kitchen full of pastry chefs making indulgent treats every day. So this way I can control my intake without feeling deprived.

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Pleased with my efforts I went off to meet a friend for her 50th birthday. She wanted tea and cake and all the usual hotel high tea events were not going to be right. So I took the opportunity to add to my 50 things at 50 and try the recently opened Dominique Ansel in London. From the getgo he was getting huge queues and has been quite the publicity monkey since being here in London but I thought the first week of Jan may be less crazy than usual.

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And yes, I get the irony! after my resolve to continue healthy eating, but in my defence I did walk there so felt I deserved a treat at the end of that. I went to his place in New York some years ago and the queues just keep on coming so when he opened in London it was just a matter of biding my time to find the right opportunity to go there. Today is a post Christmas/New Year blow out bank holiday Monday and I was right in thinking we didn’t need to queue. Still, there were none of his famous signature cronuts available at 2.30pm which was a shame. I had one at a wedding in New York a year or so ago so have had that experience but my friend hadn’t and had to opt for the DKA. Personally I think that a much nicer pastry.

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As part of his launch here, he posted on instagram some incredible creations that nodded to London and the UK, exclusives for his site here. So I went for the Paris-London: a twist on the Paris-Brest with earl grey mousse and lemon curd and can only report to be underwhelmed. In fact, I left most of it which tells you a lot. I noticed that most others were going with his made-to-order items like the cookie shot and the frozen s’mores and all taking pictures for their instagram pages.

We walked away with the feeling of the Emperor’s New Clothes. What is a down and dirty start up shop in New York which has a pace, a passion and of course actual Cronuts has been polished to within an inch of its life here in London. The designers have taken over and in the grandeur lost the experience for the customer. Fundamentally the operation does not flow. To say the service was slow is being kind. Not only was the one girl on a till impossibly slow, but we had to re-queue for another cup of tea and this took 20 minutes to order before we even stood a chance of getting it. Everything goes through one queue with one poor member of staff. My experience in New York’s tiny Soho shop just out shone this new upmarket jazzy London version. Such a shame that this talented chef has been a victim of his own success. I think I will stick to the bliss balls!

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How do you celebrate a significant birthday? Having just turned fifty, this was something I had to consider recently.

And with friends and family spread out across the world, I was not able to get them all together in one place at one time and honestly I didn’t think that was a good idea anyway. You just read about my big treat at Henne Kirkeby Kro which will be an experience that stays with me forever and reminds me of this time of my life but I also wanted to find a way to celebrate the actual day with those that I love.

I came up with two solutions to my dilemma.

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Firstly a beautiful weekend in The Cotswolds surrounded by a select group of close friends: my oldest, my newest and many in between coming together just to be and enjoy our time together. What could be better? We stayed in the Burford Brewery, ate at The Kingham Plough, walked the Autumnal Cotswold countryside, put the world to right, shared stories, played games and cooked wonderful meals together. My fabulous birthday cake was thanks to Rachel who is a dab hand at baking. All in all it was just a great weekend together.

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Secondly a promise to myself to celebrate 50 things at 50. I just want this year to be one that pushes me to say yes more, engage with different things and to take a leap into the second half of my life. There is also the added benefit of having 52 weeks to celebrate as opposed to one day.

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Thanks to Mr M&M, I quickly notched up something new: attending The School of Life talk from Innocent founder Richard Reed. He has written a book called “If I Could Tell You Just One Thing” pulling together pearls of advice from an array of significant people who have made it in the worlds of business, technology, politics, the arts and much more. The evening sat Martha Lane Fox, Katie Piper, Jo Malone and Heston Blumenthal with Mr Reed in front of us sharing their experiences and their wisdom. “Be generous” was the pearl that most captured my attention. What a lovely way to move forward with my own life by finding generosity in whatever I do.

To those who I was unable to see in The Cotswolds, I am looking forward to sharing significant time with you in the coming year and to doing things for my list #50thingsat50. And for those who may have some interesting things to recommend, let me know.

Finally: to those who were with me this year, thank you for making it so special…I have a thought about what we can do in a year’s time so book the weekend now. It will mark number 50 on my list. Looking forward to it already.

 

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I was advised to go to Henne by Mrs K who knows a thing or two about these things and she couldn’t have given me a better recommendation for my 50th birthday celebrations. I so wanted it to be as good as I had hoped and it was that and so much more.

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We drove west of Copenhagen over bridges, through fields and across waters and finally when there was almost nowhere else to go as we had crossed the Jutland and arrived at Henne Kirkeby Kro.

 

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From the moment we arrived there was a warm feeling of being somewhere very special. Even the weather cheered up for our arrival. This 200 year old former coaching inn now boasts a Michelin starred restaurant, newly designed hotel rooms but much much more than this is the team who work there who, for one moment in time, bring you into the bosom of their family. The resultant experience is one that is hard to articulate and very hard to forget.

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Chef Paul Cunningham may have been on holiday that week but his presence and inspiration is ever present. He left his Copenhagen restaurant to come here and you can understand why. The grounds boast the biggest kitchen garden in the country and they really do live the field to fork ethos here – not because this is a concept or a marketing tool but rather that it is the only right way to approach food. The fish comes out of the sea which is minutes away and so it is fresher, sweeter, tastier than any fish you will ever try. The meat comes from uber local farms. We shared lunch with the lady who makes all their sausages and then there is the bacon…. words really can’t describe this treat.

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On arrival we took the opportunity to discover the gardens ourselves. Every nook and cranny had something to discover and whilst it wasn’t an abundant time of year, there was so much to see. Someone had a sense of humour and style with so many little touches. We were given tea, cake, a nose into the various rooms that make up the dining room and an introduction to the evening, chatting to Staffordshire born chef Paul P and the most fabulous and wonderful restaurant manager, Jann Olesen.

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After a brief trip to the beach front sunset and a shower to beat all showers, we were ready to be ushered to our room for dinner. We were seated at the table adjacent to the kitchen and welcomed with the noise of REM coming from the kitchen and a lovely natural bowl of flowers and fruits from the estate. We knew we were in for something memorable.

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Bread and Butter the Henne way

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How to describe the food? Well this was cooking at its classical best with superb ingredients and wonderful wines. From the first appetisers and the presentation of the bread and butter, made from a sourdough called Helena named after Helena Christiansen, we knew we were in the hands of a team who were doing things differently. Each course came with care out of a joyous kitchen and if you can genuinely taste the emotion that goes into a dish, then this was love.

Jann made the evening so very special

Jann made the evening so very special

But what made this so much more than all the best meals you have had is the service that came with it. Jann is the best. He finds just the right balance of familiarity, information, fun and professionalism. He is interested and interesting. A huge asset to this team and to the restaurant world. Two or three stars must be imminent.

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A peak into the kitchen workings

At the end of the service we saw the Head Chef hugging his team and thanking them for their hard work. This was leadership in a different way to most kitchens and one he says brings the best out of everyone. Most stay on the estate itself and through this you have a camaraderie that pervades everything. The young teams of the future grow up here and will undoubtedly go on to fabulous things.

Cup of tea anyone?

Cup of tea anyone?

Our wonderful final waiter even went out into the freezing garden at well gone midnight to bring us mint and lemon verbena for a final digestif. We needed it!

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And just hours later, still fuller than full from dinner, we faced breakfast. What a feast. Again the table was set with all things natural from the garden and the usual understated Danish set up that we had come to recognise. Food was simple but fab. That bacon, those sausages, home made yogurt, fruit, breads, eggs done every single way you could imagine, honey from the hives we saw yesterday, jam from the fruits of the trees. Everything was treated with a light touch and a proud heart. How could we refuse.

Fish n Chip Friday!

Fish n Chip Friday!

Rolling out of our rooms and getting ready to leave, we were sat in the lounge when we were presented with gifts. Jars of jam, honey, vac pack loaves of bread from last night. And just when we thought we were ready to go we were once again ushered into our dining room by Jann because, we were told, it was Fish n Chip Friday!! Aarghh. How could we squeeze in a wafer thin mint least of all fish and chips. Dreading the thought that we would have to be rude and refuse this, we waited and chatted to chef who was there doing his orders and switching from his black country British twang to fluent Danish. He told us that through being part of the Henne family he had become a better version of himself and what more can one say than that?

Fish and chips, by the way, were so good that we scoffed the lot.

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Some of the many books available right not on the Hygge concept

Some of the many books available right not on the Hygge concept

The Danes have a word for it. Hygge. Pronounced Hoo-gah. And there are many books lately trying to define it and tell us how to embrace it. Whether it is comfort or mindfulness, embracing the moment or enjoying life’s simple pleasures, it is certainly one of the reasons that my birthday trip to Denmark was so special and so difficult to express in words. They simply can’t translate what happens in your soul when you go out there.

Denmark is said to be the happiest place in the world. In its time it has also been a leading light in history, in the world of design, architecture and more recently in the world of food. The Danes shun hierarchy or fakery, they don’t have high rise buildings that encourage another just a little bit higher, they don’t reward oneupmanship and they don’t really do the classes. The most common form of transport is a clapped out old bike. No need for flashy cars here. It’s all understated elegance.

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I realised going around Copenhagen that I grew up with mid century Danish design at home. The simplicity and clean lines are something that stood the test of time. Arne Jacobsen chairs, Pole Henningsen lights, Georg Jensen silverware. On a recent trip, the designs were all very apparent in so many places. Illums Bolighus is a fantastic department store showcasing Danish designers across their four fabulous floors and is a must go place to shop. Just opposite lies Hay – a lesson in retail homewares and display that everyone should learn from. Totally unique and inspiring.

And then of course there is the food.

The Danish food scene has long been on the list of those interested in food, encouraged by the Noma craze that has gripped Copenhagen since they beat El Bulli to the number one spot in Restaurant Magazines world’s best restaurant list in 2010. It defined this “new Nordic” cuisine and was instrumental in challenging chefs from across the country and indeed the world into going back to the roots, literally, of ingredients and food.

Whilst fascinating and surely a wonderful place to go, it didn’t appeal to me and as this was a big birthday celebration, I opted for anything but Noma itself. Many of the places recommended to me were headed up by chefs who came through the house of Noma but spread their wings further. We ate so well whilst we were there and only once had a disappointing meal, which was ironically the most upmarket place we went to. Even there, the roast celeriac with chestnut beurre noisette was awesome, but the rest – well let’s just leave it there.

So where should you go for food? Here are a few places we tried and there are just many many more we didn’t:

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Grod porridge for breakfast with Coffee Collective coffee and time to explore the whole market area of Torvehallerne

Atelier September: cute boiled egg and rye toast breakfast and probably just as fab for lunch

Palaegarde for a good example of local homely cuisine but just a step above the tourist traps

Radio for sheer elegance of cookery and as near to new Nordic as I wanted to get

The famous Manfred's steak tartar

The famous Manfred’s steak tartar

Beetroot and Goat's Cheese done the Manfreds way

Beetroot and Goat’s Cheese done the Manfreds way

Baest, Manfreds and Relae: Any of these for fab food. Manfreds was my personal favourite and if you like steak tartar it is their favourite but also their wines were incredible. And the area it is in has a lovely feel to it so stroll on from there after a long lunch. Relae is more for dinner and Baest a casual pizza offering

Explore Paper Island and all its food stands.

Queue up for hot chocolate at La Place but don’t be tempted to anything other than share one of their overpriced and somewhat disappointing traditional cakes. Too rich for us.

Eat the liquorice caramels or blond chocolate at Summerbird chocolate shop

Breakfast at Pastis and stroll along the street there even if just to take a picture of the one bed/one cafe Hotel Central

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Danish pastries and great coffee in 108 which is about as near as we got to Noma. Who ever heard of a sweet or a sour or an umami pastry? The restaurant is surely fabulous too and in the adjacent building to Noma

Chill over a beer at the old meatpacking district of Kodbyens. Many recommend Kodbyens Fiskebar although it wasn’t one of my favourites. I preferred our meal at Kul.

Visit:

Tivoli Gardens, whilst letting go of your cynicism for an inner city fairground and taking a couple of rides and a appreciating the history of this place. Go at sunset to appreciate the lighting and romance of it all

Louisiana Museum of Modern Art which is well worth the train journey out of town. Make sure you buy your ticket at the central station so that you get a combination of return train and entrance fee all in one.

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Captain your own ride on Go boat for a different angle and fun view of the city

Go and explore the art and statues at Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and just take in the atmosphere in the cafe with its cute gift shop just adjacent

Just walk or bike the city and discover all the incredible buildings and places on the way. From Torvehallerne to Nyhavn it is only a 10 minute stroll so take it all in.

Stunning gardens in the cemeteries

Stunning gardens in the cemeteries

Walk through the amazing cemeteries. You can see where Hans Christian Andersen is buried in Assistens or walk through Solbjerg before getting up close and personal with the elephants in the Copenhagen zoo! just by strolling through the adjacent park.

There is so much we didn’t get round to seeing and that’s great because there is a good reason to go back. And then we left to go west – the best reason to go and one for another story another time.