Hey guys, it’s just your old pal Mel, back with yet another post blithering on about pizza. What can I say, I’ve found my niche! I say niche, but it’s more of a cavernous expanse, given my rapidly increasing girth.

I visited The Stable in Poole a few years ago and was really impressed by the quality and interesting range of pizzas on offer.

The Bournemouth restaurant is a fair bit bigger, in a beautiful building overlooking the gardens. So far, so good.

I was offered a delicious mulled cider on arrival and taken upstairs, where I was blown away by how gorgeous everything looked.

Beth, our cider master (best job title ever!), introduced herself and brought over paddles of ciders to try. She was so knowledgeable and talked us through the different flavours and production methods, as well as a bit of background on some of the local farms.

We took notes as we went along so that we could rate our favourites at the end. Beth also brought out a bottle of her disgusting old ‘Crusty Cupboard’ cider, to demonstrate what off cider tastes like. I wasn’t brave enough to taste it, but it smelled awful!

Halfway through, we took a quick break from cider tasting, as the pizza was brought out.

I must admit, I’ve never really eaten vegan cheese, but these pizzas were so delicious I made a mental note to pick up some Bute Island mozzarella ‘cheese’ to have as a nice change once in a while.

This is what happens when you bring food out to a roomful of bloggers!

By now, we all had the taste of pizza in our mouths, and had tried quite a few different ciders, so we tried a nifty little trick Beth taught us earlier on in the night. When we sat down we all noticed that we had a cup of coffee beans next to us. Beth explained that sniffing the beans helps ‘reset’ the palate so that you can take in new flavours again. A very interesting little trick!

Not only was this an evening of great food and drink in a beautiful setting, but it was very interesting and informative too. Beth was fantastic, running through everything in a fun and engaging way, while answering any questions we had.

The Stable offers cider tasting evenings, which start from £15 per head. If you know someone who loves their cider, I would highly recommend treating them to an evening like this. Great value for money and a bit more interesting than just your regular night out at the pub.

Me and Ewelina

Because it would appear I’m becoming known as somewhat of a pizza aficionado (finally, my talents are getting the recognition they deserve!), the lovely people at The Wood Oven invited me along to their blogger event last year.

Pizza box

Perfectly situated on Boscombe beach (seriously, you couldn’t ask for better views!), The Wood Oven is part of the Urban Guild group of restaurants. I’ve been to all the others and they are wonderful; I highly recommend the breakfasts and Sunday roasts at the Urban Beach Hotel.

The group’s founder, Mark Cribb, gave a really interesting talk about the inspiration behind his restaurants and three things became clear:

  1. He’s incredibly passionate about hospitality and bringing people together over great food and drink
  2. His menus all centre around great locally-sourced food and home-grown produce
  3. He absolutely loves what he does!

I think that last point is crucial to his success. Nothing is more inspiring than seeing someone talk passionately about a business they’ve built from absolutely nothing, and learning what drives them.

He also went on to explain the reason behind the company’s logo – a pineapple, which is dotted all over their restaurants, menus and marketing materials.

Apparently the pineapple is a well-known symbol of hospitality, though embarrassingly, I worked in hospitality for three years and had no idea! Back in the day, when pineapples were expensive and hard to come by, if a host served one at a party it was seen as a sign of opulence. Their eye-catching appearance soon inspired door-knockers, banister acorns and other home ware – seriously, you’ll start to notice that they pop up everywhere! Even today, you’ll no doubt have seen all manner of pineapple accessories – lamps, vases, trinket boxes. Now it all makes sense!

Mark then handed over to his head chef, who ran us through the basics of pizza making. He also showed us photos of his research trip to Italy. It’s a hard job, but someone’s got to do it, eh?

Pizza chef

I watched and listened as his showed us the best way to knead and stretch the dough. Easy, I though to myself. I’m going to be a pro at this.

Um…it turns out I wasn’t quite the natural I thought I would be.

Several attempts and two balls of dough later, I gave up and decided to embrace my failings. The result:

Say goodbye to boring round pizzas and enjoy a spot of f(el)ine dining with the Geek Pizzafique CAT PIZZA.*

I mean, look how cute! It has herb whiskers and a mushroom nose, for crying out loud!

Sure, the others tasted really good, but were they cat-shaped? Nope.

We took our marvellous creations down to the kitchen and prepared to be pitted against each other in the ultimate test of creativity and culinary aptitude. I suspect I won more points for the former, but really, who wouldn’t want to eat a meowzzarella (thank you, I’m here all week), anchovy, rosemary and pawperoni pizza?

After the winners were announced (shockingly, I didn’t make the top three), we rounded off the evening with a cupcake decorating class, hosted by Urban Reef’s resident baker.

All in all, it was a lovely evening, and though I didn’t win a coveted guest spot on the Wood Oven’s menu, after a playful (and somewhat aggressively rigorous) campaign of harassment on Twitter, I managed to persuade the guys to put my glorious cat pizza on their specials menu.

Winner winner, kitten dinner**.

So, if you find yourself in Bournemouth and have a hankering for pizza, these guys are definitely worth checking out.

* Does not contain actual cat

**Again, I must stress, there are no actual cats in this pizza

 

I’m probably going to get very emotional writing this.

If you follow me on Twitter, or have read some of my older posts, you may know that I was in a bit of a crap place last year. I was having counselling, a relationship breakdown pushed me to see my GP and start taking antidepressants, and my life just wasn’t looking how I wanted it to. But by the end of last year I’d started to turn things around for myself. I finally found a job I loved, as a social media executive, and I’m so grateful for my time at that company. It helped me realise my potential, challenged me creatively, forced me out of my comfort zone and showed me just how much of a difference working with great people can make. I made friends there, both human and canine, and genuinely used to look forward to Monday mornings. The office felt almost like a second home to me and I still miss it sometimes – more on that later.

I went into 2017 feeling excited about the future

I normally hate New Year’s Eve. I don’t know why, but it always makes me feel a bit miserable. NYE 2016 was different though – I was happy with the way things were going and had so much to look forward to. Quite honestly, antidepressants were making the world of difference to me as well. I felt energised, fired up and unstoppable. I felt motivated and finally after a long, long struggle, like myself again. I knew the upcoming year was going to be an exciting one, for many reasons. Of course, there have been some unexpected curve balls and low moments, but I’m proud of myself for coming out the other side of those challenges stronger than ever. So here goes, my highs (and lows) of 2017 so far:

Copenhagen, January

My in-laws very (extremely!) generously treated me and Dave to a trip to Denmark for Christmas. We had such a wonderful time, stayed in a beautiful hotel, ate incredible food and did loads of sight-seeing (including a very wet, chilly river tour!).

We saw the Queen of Denmark!

The amazing view from our hotel.

Definitely DID NOT giggle at this.

We feasted on Gordon Ramsay’s delicious eggs at the airport.

We spent most of the holiday as a family, but Dave and I did go out for one date night, which was so lovely. It was close to our 10 year anniversary, so we had a cheeky toast. We went to Sticks ‘n’ Sushi at the top of the Tivoli Hotel, where the food was unbelievable, and the view from the rooftop bar so breathtaking it brought me to tears. An incredible night.

I also enjoyed eating ALL THE PICKLED HERRING, admiring the very handsome concierge (who had, quite honestly, the most incredible cheekbones I have EVER seen), and trying Finnish gin (amazing!) and smørrebrød.

We visited the most beautiful department store (sorry Debenhams, the Danes have got you beat!) and I bought so much weird and wonderful Scandinavian candy. The plan was to film a video of me and Dave trying it all, but I chickened out so have just been tweeting #ScandiCandy updates. I haven’t been brave enough to try the salty liquorice yet though…

Another funny little highlight of the trip was when I approached the very grumpy-looking man at border control, who eyed my passport very suspiciously (seriously, I was starting to sweat), for what felt like hours. Finally, he looked up at me, smiled and said, ‘Boyle, right? Any relation to Susan?’ before chuckling merrily at his own joke.

My blog

This wee little corner of the internet has opened up some amazing doors this year, and helped me meet so many great people. I’ve recorded podcasts (terrifying at first, but I feel like I’ve got the hang of them now), written for Metro, eaten A LOT of free pizza (arguably a career highlight) and enjoyed meeting so many people from the MH blogging community at the #TalkMH meet up in April. Perhaps most excitingly of all, I’ve been offered a book deal. I know, it’s crazy right? Who knew, when I started this little blog back in May 2015, where it would lead?

Losing my job

Right, it’s time for a low. Nothing could have prepared me for the awful moment my boss took me into the meeting room and told me I wouldn’t be carrying on with the company. I listened numbly, trying to make sense of his words and not really believing them. I made an impassioned, tearful plea, unwilling to accept what he was telling me; it was so sudden, so unexpected. I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. The following day passed in a blur or tears and feeling very, very sorry for myself. Two days after I was let go I went back into the office for my final day. I packed up my desk, spent most of the day playing table tennis, and cuddled Maggie for about 10 minutes while crying into her fur (I still miss her, so much).

Maggie and Me

My colleagues were lovely; they got me a card, gave me loads of hugs, took me for a coffee at lunchtime and for drinks after work. I left knowing I’d made some great friends. I’d never experienced working somewhere I really loved before, and the pain of losing my job was honestly akin to a break-up. Removing myself as admin from our social media accounts felt like changing my relationship status back to single. I still get a little pang of sadness when I see posts of my old colleagues at the office. The couple of months afterwards were a truly shit time. I ate a lot of crap food and sherbet Dip Dabs, and put on a stunning amount of weight. But then…

Getting a new job…

In July, after several interviews, a few promising opportunities and a bit of freelance work, I finally found a job as a copywriter. Sadly though, it took all of about five days before I realised it wasn’t going to be the job for me. I had a decision to make – stay and try to stick it out, or quit before they’d invested too much in me. I went for the second option. A social media position in a company very similar to my last one came up, and it seemed like a sign. Two interviews later and the job was mine.

I felt awful handing in my notice so soon after starting, but I knew I had to do what was best for me.

…and then another one!

I’m back where I want to be, working in marketing again. I love it here – the people are great, the job is exciting and I’m so glad I took that risk.

Welcoming Marty and Plum to the Boyle family

If you follow me on Twitter you’ll definitely have seen at least one or two (hundred) photos of my beautiful kittens. They’re a pain in the ass, but I love them so much. When I’m all snuggled with Dave and the cats on the sofa, I genuinely can’t believe how lucky I am. Or when Marty wakes me up in the morning with a little nose kiss and snuggles under the covers with me – MY HEART. They bring me so much joy.

Marty and Plum

Cornwall, July

Dave and I rented a gorgeous little house on a farm, with two of our best friends and spent a few days exploring Devon and Cornwall. We went back to the Eden Project, celebrated Julie’s birthday, took many trips to Morrisons, hired a pedalo (much more hard work than you’d think!) and ate loads of great food. We also tried our hand at herding sheep, with surprising success!

View

The view from our cottage.

Moving house

You might remember, a long time ago, I announced that we’d found our dream home. Well, it turns out, not quite. In fact, the second house we came very close to buying didn’t end up being our dream house either, despite having a perfect little Wendy house in the garden for Josh. But you know what they say, third time’s the charm. I couldn’t be happier in our new home, it’s honestly like a dream come true. I’ve turned it into a bit of a Christmas grotto, as I always planned to. Sadly, we had to do away with the second Christmas tree as someone couldn’t quite contain himself.

Marty in the Christmas tree

Closure

Some pretty big stuff came to a head this summer. I was able to finally close the door on a huge and horrible chapter of my life; it was a strange feeling. To an extent I found closure and acceptance, though there is still a slight, simmering anger beneath the surface that won’t quite fade. I know this is all very vague, but I will be delving into the whole mess in my book (damn, that feels so weird to say!). For now, all I will say is that it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done and I am ridiculously proud of myself for keeping a cool head and getting through it like a damn boss.

So there we have it

What a year! I’m so excited see what 2018 brings…and to kick some ass!!

Ah, the internet. What wonderful gifts it has given us. Thanks to Google, a wealth of information sits at our fingertips. Social networking sites let us connect with people all over the world, in an instant! We live in a glorious age.

But for all its treasures, the world wide web can often expose us to much, much darker things. For example, cybercrime, Donald Trump’s Twitter account and photos of other people’s disgusting food creations.

The great pineapple on pizza debate has divided people for centuries (probably), and I suspect is what spurred on this recent trend of doing unholy things to pizza.

“If we can’t defend this great evil, we must outdo it,” say the anti-pineapplers. “If we can’t convince the naysayers, we must distract them,” say Team Pineapple (go #TeamPineapple!!).

And so, the war rages on, as more and more people continue to test the boundaries of all that humanity holds sacred. The humble, yet perfect creation we call pizza.

As an keen pizza aficionado myself – and someone who never shies away from a weird food challenge – I made it my mission to sample all of these strange and beautiful creations. It’s not always been an easy journey. In fact, at times, it’s led me down some very dark paths. But what can I say, I didn’t choose this life – it chose me.

The pea and mayonnaise pizza

Described as the ‘abomination’ that unites anti-pineapplers and #TeamPineapple, this didn’t actually look so bad to me. I didn’t cook the mayonnaise onto the pizza (I’m not a lunatic), so I basically just tipped a can of peas onto a Margarita pizza, garnished with a drizzle of mayo when cooked and hoped for the best.

The verdict?

Delicious. Would (and have since on many occasions) eat again. I even tracked down the creator of this tasty little number, so I could thank them personally.

I also cheerfully responded to a great deal of backlash.

— Melissa Boyle (@geekmagnifique) March 2, 2017

Rating: 5/5

GlassesGlassesGlassesGlassesGlasses

Pizza dipped in milk

Sure, I like a nice cold glass of milk to dip my Ginger Nuts in, or Oreos if I’m pushing the boat out. But hot, savoury food? I wasn’t too sure. I know some people have cold milk with their dinner though, so while I found the idea bizarre, I could sort of see how it had evolved.

Here goes:

The verdict?

Meh. A truly unremarkable experience. The best thing I can say about it was it wasn’t awful.

Rating: 1/5

Glasses

The Swedish banana pizza

So this is an actual thing that appears on menus in Sweden, apparently. Naturally Twitter got wind of it, Buzzfeed wrote a post about it, and I swiftly decided it needed to get in my face.

Despite being obsessed with all things Scandinavian, it’s safe to say I had very low hopes. I don’t like cooked banana or curry powder, so a recipe that calls for both of these things to be thrown on a pizza? Nah, you’re alright. But, I’d committed to this culinary expedition of mine, so I couldn’t exactly back down, could I?

Besides, I was starting to get a bit of a reputation.

Guys, I’m about to do weird things with pizza. pic.twitter.com/zDdHkTfZwF

— Melissa Boyle (@geekmagnifique) March 5, 2017

People, as I’d come to expect, were very supportive and encouraging.

Here it is, in all its glory:

The verdict?

I’m sorry Sweden, I love you very much, but you’ve really screwed the pooch with this one. It’s just awful. I couldn’t even bring myself to swallow it, so I did something I never thought I’d do: I SPAT OUT PIZZA. There are many controversial toppings out there, but in my opinion this is the worst to ever besmirch a pizza.

Hella nope.

Rating, in minus figures: 5/5

GlassesGlassesGlassesGlassesGlasses

Seriously guys, I can’t stress this enough. DO NOT EAT.

Strawberry pizza

It wasn’t long before the flurry of confused and angry tweets simmered down and it seemed my brief but illustrious career as a weird pizza taster had ended as quickly as it started. My stomach (and Dave, who was starting to eye me with suspicion and fear whenever I entered the kitchen) thanked me.

But alas, it would seem there is no limit to our imagination where pizza is concerned, and pretty soon people were at it again, putting things on pizzas that don’t belong there.

This time, strawberries. As usual, the internet was divided. Some branded it an abomination (apparently that word gets used A LOT when it comes to pizza), while others suggested it could be an interesting twist on the Hawaiian pizza. I was more inclined to agree with the former.

It was time for me to rise to the challenge once again.

As you can see, being in this line of work has hardened me; after the banana pizza debacle I learned it’s safer not to cover your whole pizza with your topping of choice.

Smort!

The verdict?

This one was genuinely a puzzler. Initially I thought I hated it. The texture of the cooked strawberry was weird and the various flavours mixed together weren’t doing it for me. But, my gut told me to persevere (well actually, my gut was screaming ‘ABORT MISSION’, my intuition however, told me to keep going) and after two or three bites I was quite enjoying it. The sharp tang of the strawberries complemented the cheese, in the same way sweet chutneys or grapes make a nice addition to a cheese board. I’d possibly eat again.

Heck, I might even put strawberries on the whole damn thing next time.

Rating: 3/5

GlassesGlassesGlasses

So there we have it

My foray into the strange and wonderful world of disgusting internet pizzas has come to an end (for now). But watch this space, because I’m always on the lookout for strange foods to put in my face.

Which reminds me. I’ve got some doughnuts to make.

Hummus doughnuts tweet

Wish me luck.

EDIT: While looking through my old tweets, I came across this. So I guess this is happening too.

Help.

The lovely folk at Franco Manca Bournemouth very kindly invited me to attend their press event recently. Being a MASSIVE pizza lover, how could I say no?

We were welcomed at the door by lovely staff, who offered us a drink from a selection of wonderful sparkling wines, beer and the most delicious homemade lemonade I’ve ever tasted.

We were seated shortly after and from this point we enjoyed what I can only describe as a constant stream of food brought to our table.

We sampled amazing meats, focaccia bread with homemade pesto and burrata so good I’ve had dreams about it since.

The burrata of dreams!

Then we moved onto the main event: the pizzas. All Franco Manca pizzas are made with sourdough and fresh, simple but delicious toppings. We tried so many it’s hard to say which one was my favourite, but if you’re a fan of goat’s cheese, I have to say the goat’s curd is divine.

The wine was flowing freely as well, with the highlight definitely being a biodynamic (no, I had no idea either) sparkling red. I’ve never tried anything like it – smooth and mellow yet refreshing, with a light fizz. Wonderful.

Thankfully, we had a little break before dessert, at which point we had a go at making some pizzas ourselves. The chefs guided us through the process and it was great fun to have a go at picking our own toppings and use the giant paddle to put our pizzas in the oven.

The fab Kirsty having a go. Check out her vlog of the event here.

I pull some lovely faces.

The gorgeous Emma with her pizza creation!

My finished pizza.

Dessert was a wonderful selection of cakes, including tiramisu (an Italian favourite!), chocolate and hazelnut cake, and my personal favourite, a lemon and rosemary semolina cake served with natural yoghurt and honey. The perfect balance of sweet and tart, it was a great way to end what was admittedly a very rich meal!

I felt thoroughly spoiled as the drinks continued to flow and we enjoyed coffees and Limoncello, a cheeky digestif.

Cheers!

The service was wonderful and the food was honestly incredible – I would highly recommend! I also loved the simple, modern decor of the restaurant, with its beautiful, open kitchen offering you the chance to watch your food being freshly prepared.

Bournemouth’s Franco Manca is attached to Debenhams, and one quirky feature of the layout is that they have a door leading straight into the menswear department!

Everything, from the staff to the music, lent itself perfectly to the chilled, friendly atmosphere, making this not only a delicious, but thoroughly enjoyable dining experience.

Find your nearest Franco Manca here!