I’m so lucky to have fabulous friends. I know, I know, lots of people have friends, but not too many people have friends who are wine experts. I know, right? Still, it comes with its downsides – she makes me spend hundreds on wine y’know.
It’s been a busy year for the gorgeous Helen, who was not only voted Blogger of the Year at the International Wine & Spirit Competition, but HAS A BOOK OUT THIS YEAR! The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club: Everything you ever needed to know about wine – and much, much more. And if that’s not enough she also won Red Magazine’s Hot Women Award in the blogger category. PHEW!
Luckily for me, she is vey vey lovely, and has decided that she’s still not too famous to write her lovely annual Christmas wine guide for English Mum.
Over the last few years, I’ve written about the ideal wines to go with traditional Christmas feasts for my mate, the very fabulous English Mum. We’ve done the classic route – Champagne, Chablis, Claret and Port. And we’ve done the not-so-classic route – Prosecco, Maconnais, New Zealand Pinot Noir and Sauternes. Then last year, we did more of a food-and-wine-matching thing. All useful stuff, hopefully. But what we haven’t done is How Wine Can Save Your Life. In other words, what wines you can buy as perfect last-minute presents that make you look like a) you know what you are talking about and b) show you really care…
So, you could go for classic Bordeaux, but this in fact gives the game away. You’ve thrown money at it in the hope that you’ll blind him with expensive wine. There’s a better way: Rhone red. Something from the Rhone, made with the Syrah grape, delivers power and knowledge and love in a glass. Now that’s a present. Go for Hermitage (about £20), or for a slightly cheaper option, Crozes-Hermitage (about £10).
This is where a bottle of Bailey’s isn’t going to cut it. (Quick fact: I know the man whose dad invented Bailey’s. Imagine that! What a legacy). No, Bailey’s will betray the fact that you really didn’t know what else to buy them. What you need here is sparkles, possibly pink. So, either a bottle of Rose Champagne or – more fun but similar in price, about £20 – a bottle of Prosecco and a bottle of Campari. Then you can bond over Dirty Prosecco (just add a splash of Campari to a glass of Prosecco and marvel at the colour and taste).
The Favourite Auntie
My sister – known to my children as Auntie Alex, obviously – is, according to them, the funniest person they know. And she’ll be even funnier after a few lugs on what is quite possibly the most delicious sloe gin I’ve tasted this year: Sipsmith’s Sloe Gin (£23, Waitrose). Not only does it taste quite delicious, it is also beautifully packaged. Says I love you like no other gin can.
So, hope that helps and here’s wishing you all a very merry Christmas.
As usual Montezuma’s, my favourite chocolate brand, have brought all sorts of deliciousness out for Christmas this year. I’m particularly taken by these milk chocolate Christmas tree baubles (so pretty, with gorgeous ribbons attached) and their fantastic advent calendars – nothing worse than hideous ‘plastic’ chocolate in your calendar – they look fabulous and festive too. I’ll also be putting their chunky chocolate snowmen and chocolate snowballs on my list too.
halfwine.com specialises in half bottles of quality wines. The bottles are 37.5cl which is about one large glass each. A lovely idea for a gift, and also handy if you’re matching your wines with each course and want to prevent wastage. the Wirra Wirra Church Block 2010 shown in the picture was absolutely delicious – soft, rich and fruity. It comes part of their winter collection which, at a cost of £35.65 for four bottles: the red, a decent sparkling white, a St Emilion and a good Chardonnay is cracking value.
Joe & Seph’s
Gourmet popcorn makers Joe & Seph’s have bought out two amazing flavours in time for the festive season: the new mince pie flavour has pieces actually coated with mincemeat and contains brandy infused fruit, caramel and almonds. The brandy butter flavour is coated in a rich butter and Spanish brandy – it is quite alcoholic tasting though, so one for the adults! Both flavours are available in lovely gift jars as well as 70g packs. Really scrummy.
The Kraken is a fabulous black spiced rum (RRP: £22.99) from the States that is now available in some UK supermarkets (I’ve seen it in Waitrose already and, frankly, makes Morgan’s Spiced look like a bit of a sissy girl. Try it in this fab cocktail called ‘The Perfect Storm’: 50ml Kraken Black Spiced Rum + 25ml freshly squeezed lime juice + 5ml sugar syrup + 2 dashes Angostura Bitters. Top up with ginger beer. Serve with ice in a tall glass and garnish with two squeezed lime wedges. It comes in a lovely flagon bottle too. Yummers.
Godminster has joined up with famous wine merchants Yapp Brothers to produce this lovely ‘Classic Red’ gift box, containing a 200g Godminster Organic Cheddar, 200g Godminster Smoked Organic Cheddar, a lovely jar of Godminster Beetroot and Apple Chutney, and a bottle of Yapp Brothers’ Cotes du Ventoux Rouge: Chateau Valcombe 2008, which is a delicious soft red. Scrummy. The Classic Red Gift Box is available from www.godminster.com for £40.00 inc postage and packing.
Bakerdays.com send delicious little ‘letterbox cakes’ just three or four portion sized that, as the name suggests, fit through the letterbox. The cakes come in gorgeous little tins, with all sorts of personalisation, and I can definitely recommend the double chocolate chip cake which is dark, moist and deliciously chocolatey.
Soreen’s Cinnamon and Raisin Loaf
We’re massive malt loaf fans already, but this one is utterly delicious. It’s very moist, as usual, but with extra ‘Christmas Puddingness’ thrown in! Gorgeous toasted with a splodge of butter too. Nom. Available from Asda, Tesco and Morrisons nationwide, retailing at RSP £1.29.
Nessie Maclay has a scrummy website with all her lovely designs on really nice quality cards. My favourites are the personalised Christmas ‘thank you’ cards. They cost £7.50 per pack of ten and there is plenty of room to write on the front of the cards and the reverse is blank so there is loads of space for your tiddlers (or bigguns) to write or draw pictures. Gorgeous. I’m also tempted by the personalised correspondence cards at £60 for 100.
Lovely Fiona at ’Have a Gander’ designs tea towels and cards and has two adorable Christmas designs out at the moment. They are 100% cotton, hand-drawn in Kent and printed in England. Have a gander (see what I did there?) at their products
Not a gift, but rush out and buy Persil’s Warm Spice washing up liquid – it has the gorgeous Christmassy scents of cinnamon, clove and a dash of warm orange. If you’re stuck at the sink you might as well enjoy the smell!
Jardins D’Eden have created a gorgeous limited edition Christmas candle with sweet orange, cinnamon and clove oil and made with 100% natural wax and pure essential oils. Delicious and with the added benefits of aromatherapy too. They were really lovely and sent me one of these and the scent has been wafting through English Towers every evening making us feel really Christmassy! While you’re there, check out their other products too – absolutely lush.
For the man in your life, why not try the lovely Neals Yard grooming products from Big Green Smile. My boys both adored this face wash which is fabulously good quality and smells gorgeous too.
For those readers who live in Australia there’s a big selection of Toys at Big W. If you’re shopping for little ones why not avoid the mall altogether?
I think cookbooks are sometimes overlooked as Christmas presents. Maybe it’s the ‘domestic’ element of it? I’m not sure. I remember when the brevren were small, English Dad bought me a breadmaker for Christmas. At the time I was devastated and offended and saw it as insulting that he’d bought me something so ‘homey’ and boring. I don’t know what was the matter with me – I’d love it if he got me one now!! Anyway, if you’ve got a food lover in your life, here’s my top ten of some of the more recent books that have been released. I’ve reviewed some of them before, and have provided links to my reviews. I’ve also given you links for books on the WHSmith website where I can.
Allegra McEvedy’s Bought Borrowed and Stolen has become one of my absolute favourite cookbooks. I’ve reviewed it here so you can read all about it. A beautiful travel/cookery book written in a no nonsense style that is truly unique.
Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet - a perfect pressie for anyone who loves to bake. Dan’s friendly nature (he’s lovely on Twitter – look him up) comes across really well in this chunky book full of sweet treats. I know I’m probably silly, but how a book looks and feels is important to me and this one is gorgeous – I love to be able to flick through photos and pick something that takes my fancy. If you’re like me, you’ll adore Dan Lepard.
Jamie’s Great Britain - I’ve LOVED the series on the TV and this book is a really great accompaniment. Not only are there all the recipes from the series but tons more besides. I know Jamie has his critics but I absolutely adore his food – big flavours, creative combinations and no fiddly twiddly bits. The book is split up into nice easy sections – my fave being breakfasts (I’ve had a go at the Yemeni pancakes – they’re delicious) and mmmmm bubble and squeak with a runny egg on top. Heaven.
Donna Hay’s Fast Fresh Simple - Aussie Donna Hay’s book is absolutely gorgeous to look at and the recipes don’t disappoint either. I really like Donna Hay’s no nonsense approach to cooking, and her books reflect it really well. There are some fab shortcuts and inventive ways to get classic recipes on the table in half the time too. I love it.
One Sweet Cookie - Another really lovely looking book (making it perfect to be given as a gift, in my opinion) full of all sorts of yummy baking. The author, Tracey Zabar, herself famous as a jewellery designer, and stylist on Sex and the City, approached some of the most famous chefs in America (which is why you may not recognise some of the names) and asked them for their favourite baking recipes. The result is a treasure trove of amazing recipes.
Silver Spoon - Phaidon have recently published a new edition of this absolute monster of a classic cookbook. It’s got loads of new photographs and a really luscious red cover. Any foodie would be delighted to discover this one under the tree – everything you could possibly need to know about cooking Italian food.
Leith’s Cookery Bible - I was lucky enough to be given one of these after my recent trip to Leith’s. It’s another real weighty tome but it’s got absolutely everything in it – every recipe you can ever imagine co0king is laid out here, clearly and succinctly – I love the wine tasting section too. Really interesting. This would be a great pressie for a serious amateur cook. It really is a bible.
The Great American Cookbook - this one is quirky and fabulous. I adore it as much for the story behind it as for the actual recipes. Back in 1948, Clementine Paddleford set out on an epic journey to travel across the United States seeking out regional recipes, bringing them together in one enormous tome which was published in the 1960s. This reprint has all the spirit of the original and every truly great American recipe will be found nestling in its pages, from Creole cooking to New York cheesecake and Southern fried chicken. A fantastic read and a really great reference for any keen cook.
Next up will be my top ten Christmas books. Happy shopping!
Next on my Christmas Countdown: another cracking idea for a Christmas present – how about sending a rather yummy hamper full of foodie goodies? The Good Fork is a new online food company bringing together lovely food from the Med in deli-boxes, together with food provenance stories and quick and tasty recipes. I love an entrepreneur and lovely Virginia has taken her love of good food and turned it into a fabulous business. A background in the travel industry saw her travelling extensively round the med, but then this brought frustration, when she was back in the UK, that she couldn’t source the wonderful produce she’d discovered there.
And so The Good Fork was born. Lucky Virginia now rushes around the Mediterranean sourcing amazing products and packaging them into wonderful hampers. I absolutely loved my gift box and found the range of products really inspiring. The quality was fab too (the Herbes de Provence scented my kitchen for a whole week after I’d opened the packet!) A brilliant idea and a truly original present.
The current range of Limited Edition deli-boxes includes a Festive Fork (rounding up Christmas foods from all over the Med) an Intensely Italian Fork and a Thoroughly French Fork, with a Gorgeous Greek Fork coming soon!
Good Fork boxes start at £28.50 including p+p, while Limited Edition boxes are available for £39.50 inc p+p.
And just in time for Christmas, Virginia has introduced a gift voucher. They are available for all Good Fork boxes, including Limited Edition ones and also for three or six month subscriptions, allowing recipients to choose the variety of box they would like – lucky them! Just email firstname.lastname@example.org to order what you would like.
My lovely friend Lorraine runs the incredible website The Party Times. Here are her ten tips for a perfect family Christmas:
Christmas is a time when tiny lights shimmer in shop windows, gifts twinkle beneath the tree and the smell of decadent festive treats wafts from every home. Share the spirit of Christmas with family, friends or neighbours and enjoy a fun, festive and completely stress-free December with our top 10 Christmas tips
1. First impressions …
Welcome family and neighbours by lighting pathways with garden paper lanterns, LED light sticks and fairy lights wrapped round tree trunks or branches. Have guests met by a beautiful red berry wreath and windows decorated with ‘Ho ho ho’ stencils or stencils of snowmen, reindeers and Christmas trees using snow spray.
2. Sprucing up the tree …
A tree full of glistening lights and an array of colouful decorations heightens wonder and expectation around Christmas. Colourful fabric decorations and other beautiful pieces will stand out against dark green trees. Pick out timeless and unusual decorations with a nostalgic touch such as charming wooden decorations or for something unique, silver and red personalized baubles. Add a few edible chocolate treats and candy cane sticks; something the younger members of the family will love. Save any spare fir branches from the tree for napkin decorations or to add above the fireplace for a touch of nature. Look out for make your own angel kits or fabric heart decorations, a fun weekend activity to do with your children and a perfect creative accessory for the top of the tree.
3. ‘Tis the season to be baking …
Cookies and biscuits are great additions to a family Christmas and children will love helping you make them. Look out for christmas cookie cutter sets that come in a variety of shapes such as star, reindeer, snowflake or Christmas tree designs. Store your baked treats in tins and hand them out to friends who drop by, served with a steaming mug of hot chocolate. Hang biscuits on the tree by piercing a hole and threading pretty ribbons through them or wrap them in cellophane, tie with curling ribbon and hand them out as end of term gifts.
Other wonderful festive treats include Christmas popcorn (caramelized and dusted with cinnamon) chocolate snowball truffles (coated in desiccated coconut) or chunks of gooey marshmallow-filled rocky road. Hand these out as end of term gifts or to family members, sealed in festive christmas party boxes.
4. A gingerbread house …
Create a Scandinavian fairytale gingerbread house, good enough to eat. Not only will it look and smell appealing, it will bring out the child inside of everyone. Get your children to help build and decorate it with you and you can put it in a windowsill lit up or use it as a table centerpiece, adorned with hundreds of sweets!
5. All dressed up …
Christmas themed tablecloths do all the ‘dressing’ aspect for you, there’s so much colour in the print you just need to add a centerpiece to give it some dimension such as vintage santa themed tableware. But if you’re opting for a more traditional table setting with plain red partyware, greens and whites then choose decorative cotten napkins, fun placemats and novelty place card holders. Fill bowls with colourful treats such as candy cane, peppermints and other shiny wrapped treats (Roses or Quality Streets).
Alternatively festive baubles in vases or cardboard cut-out reindeer centrepieces or sleigh and reindeers or Christmas trees. You can then arrange candles and nightlights at differing heights to create a dramatic and cosy atmosphere. Red crystal gemsand festive confetti scattered in blank spaces on the table will glisten and catch the light, evoking a sense of enchantment. And don’t forget party poppers, chocolates and make-your-own party crackers – a few essentials that make a big difference.
6. Winter brews …
Hot chocolate ganache sticks stirred into mugs of warm milk are wonderful seasonal treats for the family. Then top your steamy brews with frothy cream or mini marshmallows – heaven on a cold wintry night. Yet nothing fills a house with festive aroma faster than mulled apple simmering on top of the stove. Children will love drinking this too (without the alcohol) and can help prepare the apples, studding them with cloves.
7. A flicker of an idea …
At this time of year everything seems to gleam so fill your house with lots of tiny lights such as green christmas fairy lights. Fairy lights play an essential part and can be draped from beams, twisted round staircases and hung around door frames for a winter sparkle. Rustic rattan reindeers nestled in a corner and wrapped with fairy lights look stunning and magical.Light your Yule log or homemade cupcakes with angel flames – candles with a party piece of their own! When lit their flames burn red, blue and green creating a magical effect that children will go crazy about!
Tie white LED illoom balloons (filled with helium) onto the backs of chairs using curling ribbon or tie them in clusters around the room.
8. Shop online …
Make life easy and buy your children’s Christmas present online which will eliminate aimless shopping trips and mean you won’t have troubles trying to hide their gifts whilst you’re out shopping with them. Write a gift list and a budget before you shop online, otherwise you can get carried away.
9. Wrap, tie & tag …
Try to wrap all your gifts as far in advance as possible, this will make you feel more organized. Look out for Christmas tissue paper, perfect for wrapping stocking-fillers and use some red curling ribbon for a special touch. You can add ribbons, tags and bows later on, but label with sticky notes so you don’t forget what’s what. Chic satin ribbon can add colour to the simplest wrapping paper and can be used to tie around napkins or to hang decorations. Run out of gift tags? Cut up old Christmas cards into gift-size tags and use them instead.
10. Don’t leave it to the last minute …
Brainstorm all the jobs you need to do in preparation for Christmas and put it up on your pinboard at home. Mark off the jobs as you do them and give yourself an extra day to get everything done. Think what food you can prepare in advance, (things like sauces, brandy butter etc), what you can freeze and try to avoid the supermarkets during the weekday evening rush and at weekends. It’s always useful to update your address book, in preparation for sending out Christmas cards. You could always get your computer-savvy child to help you type out all the addresses to avoid having to use your scribbled out address book.
A few special touches …
Buy a few small things that will make your Christmas celebrations extra special. Things like edible green glitter trees will add sparkle and shimmer to cupcakes, biscuits and festive popcorn and children will love the magical element it brings. A pack of sky lanterns and a giant Christmas musical cracker game or snowball splatter game hidden away and brought out on Christmas day will add a special touch and if you don’t use them they’ll be perfect for New Year parties too. Shaped sugar lumps in fun festive shapes such as mistletoe, fir branch and pinecone are thoughtful additions for after-dinner coffee and guests will love them (visit Cox & Cox).
Last but not least …
Fill gorgeous mini fabric party cones with little surprises as going home gifts (they work well as a room decoration too) and can be kept to keep little gifts such as jewellery and toys inside. Hang the party cones between two fixtures or above the fireplace. Can also be saved and used year after year.
My lovely friend, The Presents Queen, runs the wondrous website thefoodiegifthunter.co.uk and as such is an expert on everything present-like. This year, she’s offered to give us a run-down on a more frugal Christmas – with tips and tricks that’ll save us pennies (and cents) before the big day. Bring it on, Queenie!
I don’t think it matters which side of the Irish Sea you are, or which side of the border, this year is feeling tight for pretty much most people. And when it’s all this bleak, you really need something like Christmas to cheer things up. But how to do it without breaking the bank (and no jokes about them doing a good enough job themselves, please)?
Well, actually on the food front, there is plenty you can do that will look and taste good, and be a joy to receive, but also allow you and the family to eat in January. Here’s a few ideas to hopefully ease the financial strain but still keep you on speaking terms with loved ones!
* Make things to eat and make them look great. Of course, taste is paramount but it’s so much easier now to make things look great as well. Try places like Lakeland for bags and boxes, or collect interesting tins throughout the year to put in homemade cookies or cakes. Cake decorating stores offer a great many options on sprinkles, sparkles and decorations that would just bring homemade chocolates up a notch or two.
*Track down unexpected sources of reasonably priced gifts. It can be a bit hit and miss but my local TK Maxx often has decent olive oil, tea and coffee gifts, all at heavily discounted prices. My other favourite foodie gift hunting ground is my local Indian or Chinese supermarkets, which are great for spices and sauces not to mention authentic kitchen equipment, all at a fraction of prices that they appear in the mainstream supermarkets.
* Make up kits for people to make their own goodies later. Like on Boxing Day when no one has any idea what to do now. I wrote over on The Foodie Gift Hunter earlier this year about making ready to go flavoured rice puddings in a bag, but you could also do things like cookies in a jar, risottos or pilaf, even different breads. Google it, you’ll find lots of recipes to inspire you. Make the containers you put the contents in interesting, and then write out the recipe to attach to it. Or video it, post it to YouTube, and really bring it to life. Or give them a good laugh!
* Barter with friends who make stuff you don’t. Maybe you’ve given away jars of your homemade jam before. Can you swap with a friend who makes great homemade pickles or something like sloe gin? Our honey is in short supply this year as it’s our first year with the hive, but I can imagine trading that in future with a friend making their own apple juice and cider, and then gifting that on.
* Look for vintage equipment and tableware. Of course you could do eBay but also try local charity shops, jumble sales, bring and buys, the lot. I am really wishing I had bought champagne saucers in a charity shop recently, perfect for a glamour injection in these austere times. I’d also be looking out for things like jelly moulds, serving plates, cake displays or unusual things that you’re not sure what job they did around the kitchen!
* Buy other people’s homemade stuff. WI Markets or school fetes are all rich hunting grounds for any of the above but without the time in the kitchen. If you can’t face getting out and about, then try Etsy for interesting stuff delivered straight to the door.
* Gift your time. Give them a gift certificate for you cooking them dinner, delivering a cake a month, a loaf of bread per week…whatever you’re great at. And if you can’t cook, and they can, then offer yourself up as chief potwasher and potato peeler. Being generous with your time is almost more precious than being generous with your cash.
Hopefully you’re feeling inspired to save cash but not to scrimp on great gift giving! Have a great Christmas, and a January that is more in the black than red!
When we were first married, my new husband presented me with a breadmaker one Christmas morning. I was duly horrified with such a practical and unglamorous present. Needless to say, I’d blimmin’ love one now. I wonder what that says about me? Less glam? Or just far more sensible? Either way, I’ve got some fabulous gadgets to show you – every one of which I’d be happy for Santa to lever into my stocking…
I’ve been testing this baby and I have to say *gasp* that I loved it as much as I love my KitchenAid. Firstly, it looks utterly fabulous – it has a real ‘professional’ feel about it, and secondly the quality is just top notch. Every piece feels really chunky and solid and there are masses of optional attachments (juicer, ice cream maker, a fabulous stainless steel liquidiser, even a food processor attachment – brilliant if you’re short of space). I love the dual handles on the bowl and also the fact that when lifted, the beater moves far enough out of the bowl to allow you to scrape down the sides easily. The controls are better placed than the KitchenAid (I often flip the power switch instead of the release switch and spatter the kitchen with cake mix) and it will knead even the largest batch of dough without doing a little dance across the worktop. If my Mum’s Kenwood Chef is any yardstick, it will still be going strong 30 years from now too. Check out Kenwoodworld.com for more details and stockists.
The entire Villaware range are like works of art, but if you’re going to choose one really good quality item for your kitchen (or for your loved one on Christmas day), choose their blender. Not only is it amazingly strong (we use it for crushing ice for cocktails), it also makes breadcrumbs without getting clogged and will whizz small amounts of garlic butter or pesto, thanks to its double blade. It comes apart easily for cleaning too. Check out villaware.co.uk (ooh and if you buy any Villaware product between now and 31st December you’ll get 20% cashback!).
Not one gadget, but loads of different ones. I couldn’t do a gadget post without mentioning all the loveliness that is the Jamie Oliver range. Special mention has to go to those knives (it’s okay, I have a few fingers left), which would make a fabulous present for a keen cook (as long as they don’t mind the inevitable flesh wounds).
I’ve talked about this little beauty before, I know, but this clever little gadget has now been reborn in a slinky black design making it even nicer to have gracing your worktop. This perfect pressie can fry a ton of chips (well, a kilo) with just one tablespoon of olive oil, and I can vouch for the perfect crispy chips that it makes (and they’re only 3% fat). For more information and stockists visit www.tefal.co.uk)
Okay okay, so it’s £585, but this baby does the lot, from bean to cup – grinding, brewing to your personal preference – hell, it even filters the water! If your budget is slightly lower, check out Le Cafe Shop’s coffee machine section – there are loads of coffee machines for every wallet (I love the fabulous Presso espresso maker - a more comfortable £74.90, including free coffee).
Lastly, then, if he really does want to buy me a breadmaker (I won’t complain now), he could buy me this little beauty. The Panasonic SD 257 has a brioche mode and a rye bread option and can whip up fresh bread in under two hours – or you can set it to waft the magical smell of freshly baked bread as you get up in the morning. Yum. Click here for more info.
PS: Thanks for all your good wishes. Number two son is out of hospital this morning and we’re hoping for a speedy recovery xxx
Kicking off a whole series of gift guides, then, it makes sense to start with the foodies:
Fudge’s biscuits are yum scrum and make for a really nice foodie pressie. I can vouch for this as they very kindly sent us a tin (they’re really nice people too, which always helps) and there was practically a fist fight. I think they’re well priced as well for such a luxurious selection (£10.50 – available from Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda as well as good independent farm shops, delis and stores.)
If you’re looking for a fabulous foodie present to send within Ireland, look no further than Sheridans Hampers. Another really nice bunch of people (their cheese warehouse is quite near here and I often pop in for a gorgeous wedge of Parmesan or some lovely free-range eggs), their hampers start from €32.50 for a Port and Wine selection. Collection from any of their four locations across Ireland. Delivery can be arranged at extra cost. They can also custom-make hampers too. Visit Sheridanscheesemongers.com for more info.
The Travelling Souk has some really unusual gifty ideas. Check out the gorgeous stationery and the foodie section too. The textiles from Ochre and Ocre are beautiful quality (organic cotton oven gloves £15.00) and arrive gorgeously gift-wrapped:
as do these cute little Craven and Hargreaves heart-shaped hammered spoons – perfect to stir your fairtrade coffee after a huge Christmas dinner – which are delightfully packaged in a soft organza pouch too (£26.50 with free shipping).
The Three Sisters Indian Cookbook: Delicious, Authentic and Easy Recipes to Make at Home is written (as the name would suggest), by sisters Priya, who lives in Delhi, Alexa who lives in the UK and Sereena who lives in the USA. The recipes in the book are based on their mother’s authentic Indian dishes. The book is priced £8.50 on Amazon or you can purchase a set containing the book plus an authentic Indian spice box, priced £48, online at www.flavoursandspices.co.uk
Don’t forget the non-drinkers this Christmas. We had a little taste test here at English towers and thoroughly recommend the Shloer White Grape sparkling juice, as well as their rosé version. They look delectably fizzy in a flute and mean that the drivers (and the teens!) don’t feel like they’re missing out on the festive champers!
Pukka Licorice and Cinnamon Tea is gorgeously (and festively) packaged and makes a lovely foodie gift. It’s also good for the digestion (which could be a bonus after that Christmas dinner). Check out www.pukkaherbs.com for their full range:
and talking of tea and coffee, my lovely twitter friend Kathryn, has a great website called Coffee to a Tea. I asked her what she recommended for Christmas and she had the following ideas:
‘Its hard to choose a single product as a gift idea… I think since its Christmas I would probably suggest the Cinnamon Ground or wholebean coffee and/or for something a bit different the Berry Fruit Tisane which is fruity and light to combat the normal heavy Christmas fayre.’
I have to say that I’ve got my eye on the Chocolate Cherry ground coffee – what a great pressie! You can find Kathryn’s shop at coffeetoatea.co.uk and on twitter @coffeetoatea.
Other great websites for foodie gifts are foodado.com for a really interesting range of artisan and gourmet pressies, and my old favourite Vintage Wine Gifts who deliver great wines in lovely presentation boxes. I’ve used them a lot and can recommend their very efficient service.
But wait – what foodie gift guide would be complete without the lovely Green & Blacks? I heartily recommend a box or two of miniatures kept ready-wrapped and stashed in case of last minute guests. The brand new 24 miniature bar collection, made up of eight of the best selling flavours – Dark, Milk, Creamy Milk, Butterscotch, Almond, Cherry, Ginger and White costs £8.99 from the usual supermarkets, etc. Of course if you manage not to give them away, then you can discover them on Boxing day and eat them yourself. Bonus.
And finally, the little chef elves at the English Cheesecake Company have been busy again this year making lots of lovely cheesecakes for Christmas. There’s White Chocolate and Cranberry – creamy white chocolate cheesecake blended with delicious fresh chunks of cranberry and white chocolate on top of a heavenly digestive biscuit base. Or there’s the Brandy Snap cheesecake stuffed with crispy brandy snaps and a brandy butter centre, or for those who don’t like cheesecake, there’s a deep deluxe Irish Fudge Cake with an Irish Cream topping and moist chocolate brownie chunks, and finally there’s the Pecan Pie baked vanilla cheesecake, with Dulche de Leche toffee glazing over a generous pecan topping. Yum scrum. Each 8″ inch cheesecake serves 12 and prices start from £24.99 including free UK delivery. Just click on: www.englishcheesecake.com
And as a special treat, just email me via the contact form at the top of the page with CHEESECAKE in the title and tell me which cheesecake you’d most like to scoff, along with your name and address. The winner will win the cheesecake of their choice delivered to their door. UK only entries please. Competition closes Wednesday 8th December.
This competition is now closed. Congratulations to Sharon Hingley, who won her choice of a white chocolate and cranberry cheesecake!
Well, well, well, hello again! We’re all moved over to the UK (after much swearing and broken fingernails packing the house up, then a ferry crossing from hell with storm force winds and high seas). We’re moved into English Towers Mark 2 (kitchen is a B+ but garden’s a C-) but sadly I’ve no internet connection, so I’m going to hand you over to my lovely friend Mise for a little retro pressie making. Chat soon!
Hi there, I’m Mise from Pretty Far West and I’m here to help. You’ve been reading the lifestyle blogs and you’ve realised that this year you can’t just buy junk from the ‘For Her’ and ‘For Him’ stands of the chain-stores as Christmas gifts, as they won’t show that you’re Vintage, Frugal, Retro and Caring. So what can you do? Well, while you’re thinking about it you could make a batch of old-fashioned Coconut Ice to give to your aunts in beautifully-wrapped little boxes. Here’s how.
75 ml milk
a splash of rose water or 1 tsp vanilla essence,
75g desiccated coconut
a few drops of red food-colouring.
1. Heat the milk and sugar in a heavy saucepan until the sugar has dissolved, then simmer it gently until it reaches the soft ball stage. That means that if you drop a spoonful into a glass of cold water, it’ll form a soft ball. Don’t worry if you boil it for too long: it may turn into coconut toffee.
2. Remove from heat, stir in the coconut and rose water or vanilla. Mix well (it’ll start to become firm).
3. Turn half of the mixture out onto a sheet of greased greaseproof paper (in a square tin or just on a big plate).
4. Add a few drops of red food-colouring to the rest, mix it in, and press the pink mixture down on top of the white. Tidy the edges a bit if you like by pressing them in with a knife.
5. In a few minutes it’ll be firm enough to cut into squares (this should make about 16 pieces). Leave it in the fridge for an hour and then remove from the tin or plate.
I was surprised at how well this turned out – it was delicious and much sought after. Add more colouring if you prefer a brighter pink. Play the Bee Gees while you’re working to enter fully into the spirit of the thing. And tell your aunts I said hello.
Off to the kitchen with you then, and I’ll be back soon with more guest posts and fabulous ideas for a cracking Christmas. Mwah! x
I know, I know, it’s not even December, but it’s a Christmas Countdown, so stop moaning (you know who you are). The lovely chaps at John Lewis set me a little Christmas challenge to give my rules for the definitive English Towers family Christmas. They go a little like this:
#2 must awake at the crack of dawn. There will then follow an intense period of annoyance when every other sleeping member of the household must be awakened (generally in an aggressive, jumping-on-the-bed fashion) and invited to ‘wake up, it’s Christmas!’, even though it is barely 6am. There is invariably a lot of creative, un-Disneylike swearing at this point.
Every year, at least one present will be opened by the wrong child. This will cause all sorts of trouble. This will have nothing at all to do with how inebriated the gift giver was when wrapping and labelling the present at 11.55pm on Christmas Eve *cough*. #1 got Rachel Allen’s ‘Bake’ last year. He was not amused.
The dinner must be at least 1 hour late (it’s amazing how long a turkey can ‘rest’ when the cook has been on the cooking sherry, got distracted and wandered off to have a chat with someone).
One part of the dinner (generally something that I have slaved over) will be left in the fridge or oven and be completely forgotten.
Everyone must talk at once (I remember my two lovely sister-in-laws once comparing notes about our family dinners, saying that they could never keep up with the 17 conversations that were all taking place across the table at the same time).
There MUST be champagne.
There must be at least one drunken misdemeanor on Christmas day.
There must be a call to The Disreputable One which will entail each child in turn listing each and every present in great detail, and must bore the pants off the poor man, but he bears it with dignity.
There must always be a disagreement about what is The Perfect Christmas Movie. I will vote for How The Grinch Stole Christmas or White Christmas and be outvoted (and told that ‘it’s GAY’), and Hubby will vote for Back to the Future, even though it patently has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever. We’ll probably all settle on Elf, which is obviously the best Christmas movie in the history of absolutely everything.
English Grandma, who is well known for not saying no to anything, will end up being caned at Texas Hold’em or playing Call of Duty on Xbox, even though she won’t know what the hell she’s doing.
The children will always insist that every tree ornament that we’ve ever purchased must go onto the tree. My attempts at subtle two-colour decor will be treated with contempt and that bloody plastic star thing covered in glitter will go on the top of the tree again.
The outside of the house will be lit up like Blackpool Illuminations. This is Hubby’s department. He will moan and groan about it, but at some point he’ll be out in a force 10 gale, swaying about on the top of a ladder, swearing at gutter clips whilst stringing 500 lights across the front of the house. It’s just his thing.
Oh, and the big move commences today, so feel free to chat amongst yourselves until I unpack the computer at the other end. Over to you, then. Christmas rules?
So cracking on with the Chrimbo countdown, then, I’ve got another amazing guest post for you today, this time from my lovely Twittermate, Helen, who runs the frankly adorable Icklebabe.com website. Over to you, Helen:
Christmas is such a lovely time and I usually start dreaming up new ideas for designs from about the time the school summer hols finish!
I have a cheesy Christmas album I put on (Cliff features heavily!) to get me in the Christmas spirit and then start painting and stitching away! I do get some strange looks from the rest of the family and by the actual event I have been on Christmas mode for ages, but its still one of my favourite and most creative times of year!
This year I am bringing back a few bestsellers: the Santa snacks plate is always popular and a really nice family tradition for every year:
…as well as the yummy felt shabby chic Christmas puddings:
…and cherry red hearts!
I have also been busy with lots of new Christmassy treats and I am adding new things all the time! My favourites at the moment including a really cute Christmas tree t-shirt in baby and child sizes:
… and my new wooden retro style Christmas tree decorations made and distressed to look like they may have been hidden away in granny’s attic just waiting to be discovered!
I am now working on some shabby chic Christmas stockings:
…and personalised mugs:
I love the magic of Christmas and the way we all get to just take a deep breath and enjoy the time together, ohhh and the copious amounts of chocolate and the odd glass of egg nog go down quite well too!
Final date for all Christmas orders is the 10th December. So hurry along to icklebabe soon and also grab your free cheeky ginger bread man gift!
*Sigh*, it’s all gorgeous! I’m wondering if I can get one of these cute Rudolph t-shirts made in an adult size:
So okay, its 1st November and as such it’s far too early to be uttering the dreaded C word, even for die-hard Chrimboaholics like me. But hey, planning in advance often means you can do things better, easier and sometimes cheaper too, so over the next 8 weeks I’ll be giving you loads of fab recipes to plan, make and even freeze in advance, as well as advice and great ideas for the big day itself. I’ll be trying to persuade my BFF and wedding cake maker extraordinaire, Jen, to do us a step by step Christmas cake decorating lesson and I’ll also be teaming up with the wondrousness that is Helen: all-round Queen of Presents and editor of The Foodie Gift Hunter to give you some great ideas for Christmas gifts: foodie and non-foodie.
And so, without further ado, I’ll pass you over to Helen:
I love Christmas, and it usually starts in about June. About the 25th, when I get the 6 month countdown panic! When you have a reputation for finding great gifts, you’ve got to start early. In fact my top tip for finding great gifts is don’t leave it till the last minute. Presents bought in panic will haunt you for years to come as the recipient endlessly reminds you how bad it was.
And foodies can be pretty difficult to buy for, because only the best will do, but the best isn’t necessarily about price. With most gourmet foodies, it’ll be as much about the provenance of the food, the rarity, the way it’s made, not to mention the taste! So, I probably wouldn’t pick up a chocolate fondue set from Sainsburys on Christmas Eve if they have such high standards. Here’s some alternatives:
1. I like FoodFullStop for a great selection of artisanal food producers. Regardless of their favourite food type, you’ll probably find something there to suit them. Delivery costs and timings vary, and they only ship within the UK at present. No one will guess that you are sending them a box of handmade Scotch eggs. Well, not unless they leave them somewhere warm for a week.
2. For the luxury end of food, then there isn’t much London Fine Foods won’t deliver, and they deliver across the UK and EU. I have always wanted to present someone with a gift wrapped whole acorn fed Iberian ham. Can you imagine them guessing what it is? It’s great for really unusual ingredients, that would earn real gourmet food points, definitely worth a look. I’ve asked Santa to consider the White Truffle Oil, just in case I’m good between now and December.
3. I couldn’t do a list like this without including Lakeland. Stuff you never even thought about needing pops up here and you wonder how you ever did without it! It’s a great place for gadgets for gourmets as well as food treats. They will deliver outside of the UK, but you can’t order online with a card issued outside of the UK, you just have to ring them instead. I love the nostalgic look of the Tala Icing Syringe Set, imagine it could provide hours of fun. And mess.
4. One of my new favourites is the wonderfully named Pong. If you’ve got a cheese lover to buy for, this is a great site to get to know. You can choose your own selection, or buy one of their gift boxes, but the recipient won’t be disappointed. I love that they even have a selection of vegetarian cheeses, and goats cheese for those who are dairy intolerant. There’s also a concise but tasty selection of biscuits and chutneys you could add in too. Cheese can be shipped throughout the UK and the Republic.
5. I am somewhat addicted to cookbooks, as the weekly Friday Five will testify. And a foodie can always manage another cookbook. My advice is you’ll probably need to go a bit less mainstream than Nigella and co, and dig out the writers the chefs admire, or go obscure on a type of cooking you know your loved one is really into (I bought Dr T Extreme Barbecue, which is definitely inspiring for the barbecue kings out there!). Or try Alibris for out of print, first edition and just plain hard to track down titles. Go for something unusual and interesting sounding!
6. Not just for the foodies around, but NotOnTheHighStreet is one of my favourite sites for bringing together such an amazing collection of talent from all over. My fave gift on here is adopting an olive tree with Nudo, and get some of their olive oil too, but then there’s also beautiful kitchenware, from modern to kitsch, and some of the best apron choices around.
7. If you’ve got an avid cake baker to shop for, then I would highly recommend Splat Cooking, for every kind of tin, cookie cutter and embellishment they could ever, ever want, let alone need. Want a corset cookie cutter? They’ve got one. Designer gingerbread kits? Everything from chalets to rabbit hutches. And a proper cake stand for their creations? One tier or two?
8. Lets go full on carnivore, but with a difference. The Real Boar Co., aside from a great name, will provide you with meat treats from boars reared in the UK and all produced here too. Salami sounds like a good buy, easy to wrap, and not prone to going off! There’s probably also some comedy value and there’ll be a few comments about big sausages on Christmas morning. If you’re buying for a very greedy meat eater, then the 4 pack may be just the thing.
9. To spice things up, then, I highly recommend Spices of India for giving you all the ingredients you’ll need for fantastic curries. Not just the spices though, you can buy things like spiced masala tea, a Bombay sandwich spread which has to be worth a go and even a tandoor oven for the real authentic experience. Again, another present they are going to guess ahead of time!
10. Of course you can always buy them wine or champagne but for non drinkers, or those likely to go on the wagon in January, buy them fabulous tea from Lahloo Tea. No PG here, this is top quality tea with huge variety, including their own breakfast blend, Rose Congou and the delightfully named Dragon Pearls. One for the in-laws perhaps?
So not so much a top ten as a starter for ten! Given all the issues around the post this year, if you’re going to shop online then start early for the non-perishable stuff. Either that or go back to the old fashioned thing of visiting shops, but make it the small, local ones who really, really need your business, this year more than any year.
Here’s a new discovery from the lovely Jen:
Cox & Cox: Should be renamed Englishmumstuff.co.uk as it contains every lovely, Christmassy, sparkly, arty, craft, kitcheny gorgeous thing I love (Including snowflake cookie cutters – received today, thanks muchly Jen! xxx) and yes they deliver internationally. Make an order quick if for no other reason than because you’ll get a free copy of their droolworthy catalogue.
Oh, and there’s only 33 days to now. Aaarrrrghhhh!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
So there’s just 36 35 34 33 days until Christmas (I know, I know) and about this time last year, I provided you with my Online Shopping Awards – a warts and all guide to the best (and sometimes not so best) places to doing your shopping online. This year it’s bigger and better. So there’s no excuse for giving your loved one a tin of Heroes from Asda.
The big few are still in there pitching:
Amazon are okay for books, but they still won’t deliver games or toys to Ireland for some bloody insane reason.
Play.com is really good, with free delivery worldwide and the chance to try other traders on Playtrade, but make sure the product really is still good value once you’ve changed from £ into € – their exchange rate is ludicrous (especially seeing as it looks like it won’t be long before the £ and € get neck and neck)..
Here’s a bit of credit where credit’s due. Last year, I moaned that Nextdirectory.ie had extortionate delivery charges, but this year they’ve dropped from €9.50 to €5. Bargain. The range is still nowhere near that of its UK cousin, Next.co.uk, but still, it’s a great site.
Kitchen Complements still gets my vote as one of the best sites for kitchen stuff. Delivery is worldwide and the price depends on the weight and destination – full details on their fantastic website.
Living Gifts is just such a beautiful website, sending beautiful foodie hampers containing artisan produced goodies: chocolates, cakes, puds and preserves along with hand made pottery, cookbooks… you name it, all delivered in hamper baskets with a small fresh flower bouquet and your greeting on a pretty gift card. The lovely Mary at Living Gifts especially recommended their Orla Kiely for Butlers selection of gourmet chocolates including salt, nutmeg and chilli, for chocolate lovers: ‘a feast for the senses!’ in a gorgeous keepsake box designed by Orla Kiely. Delivery to Ireland, the UK, Europe, Oz, and the US. Price depends on the weight and destination. Full details on their website.
The girls at Beaut highly recommend: Cloon Keen Atelier . They do the most beautifully packaged smellies, body care stuff and candles. Check out their wondrous Christmas Morning candle, containing vanilla, pipe tobacco (which always reminds me of Uncle D, Moon’s lovely Dad), clove and cinnamon. Yum scrum. Worldwide shipping. [Edit: and they're very friendly too - hello Maggie!]
If you live in the UK, or have friends or family there that you need to send pressies to, John Lewis is, as always, difficult to beat tops this Christmas, with FREE delivery on everything. They do fantastic gift sets of perfumes and that sort of stuff, flowers, jewellery, luggage, electrical gadgets for the boys, clothes… you name it.
Couverture sells the most beautiful items for the home, plus great clothing and it even has a vintage section. Delivery is £5.95 in the UK. Overseas delivery can be arranged but you’d need to contact them for pricing.
Hotel Chocolat is recommended by the Disreputable One. One of their orders was lost en route to us here in Ireland and they sent a new batch without a single quibble and with a lovely letter of apology too. The original order then turned up and we were fair drowing in their beautiful chocolate. Delivery worldwide and they have a US site as well (hotelchocolat.com). Their Ultimate Chocolate Advent Calendar contains seriously grown-up chocolate – 40% & 50% high cocoa milk, white with cherries and dark with Valencia orange cast into beautiful Christmas figures
Back on the guide for the second year is Vintage Wine Gifts. I use this site loads. You can search by region, drink, age, whatever and then send your wine, champagne, port, spirits, etc in the UK for £5.99 a bottle (delivery for orders over £39.99 is free) and internationally for £19.99 a bottle. The bottles are shipped in beautiful silk-lined wooden boxes and you get to choose a delivery date too. I’ve never once had a problem with an order.
Last year, the lovely, friendly, nothing-is-too-much-trouble Phil at Kiss the Cook made gorgeous little aprons for my nephews and nieces, embroidered with things like ‘Domestic Goddess in Training’, and this year she’s making me a special English Mum apron. I love my ‘Chocolat!’ napkins too. Postage from just £1.75 in the UK. Worldwide orders no problem, either.
Have some fun with your photos at Moo.com as well. I ordered some thank you cards with Bert on – they always go down a storm. P&P is only about €5, and that’s anywhere in the world. Great site and their customer service is second to none.
So there you have it. Anyone else got any favourites to add? Oh, and sorry I’m not about much, I’m testing cake recipes and am off to grate a kilo of carrots for a carrot cake. Whoopee!