I love a good surprise, so when John Lewis very kindly invited me to team up to choose a surprise gift for a fellow blogger, I was delighted. I was teamed up with the gorgeous Sam Squire, the uber stylish blogger behind mens fashion and lifestyle blog ImSamSquire. My boys are obsessed with Sam and particularly love his cool outfit shoots and I wanted to put together a really stylish mens grooming kit that would impress Sam, as well as give you a few last minute ideas for gifts for the stylish man in your life
I seem to have left all my Christmas shopping until the last minute this year. I think it’s because I’ve been having such good fun baking. Thank goodness for the interwebz where you can still find loads of last minute gifts for teenagers, with something to suit even the pickiest teen. And if, like me, you’re going to struggle to afford a brand new PlayStation 4 Pro (basically the only thing on Sam’s Christmas list this year, but at £350 not going to happen, unfortunately), I’ve hunted down some great gifts that will keep any type of teenager happy.
It’s finally December! Which means everywhere you click there are Christmas gift guides. I LOVE a gift guide – people always hunt out the best pressie ideas while I’m sitting here scratching my head for things to add to my Christmas wishlist. This year, I did start a little list on my phone whenever I saw something nice that I couldn’t really justify buying for myself. I think Christmas is totally the season where you can ask for luxury things and little treats! I’m not expecting them all, but if Santa’s reading, I promise I’ve been a really good girl!
As a mum (and I speak from experience here), there’s nothing nicer than opening a pressie containing lovely pampering stuff that you might think twice about splashing out on yourself.
In this Big Christmas Gift Guide, I’ve brought together a few lovely treats that will make you, your mum/your wife/your sister feel fabulous, because, hey, they deserve it.
So next to get the Big Christmas Gift Guide treatment are your gorgeous teenagers.
First up are the frankly fantastic All in One Company who hand make their fabulous quality onesies in Northumberland. They very kindly asked me for Charlie’s measurements and made him a special onesie with his choice of purple camo polar fleece. He’s absolutely delighted with it because, hey, there’s not another one in the world that’s exactly the same. You can also give All in One Company gift vouchers so that people can design their very own onesie, and they also have an adorable baby section (check it out – the cuteness!)
Colgate’s new ProClinical A1500 electrical toothbrush is a bit more practical but makes a really cool present (and what teenager doesn’t love looking in the mirror let’s face it). It’s a really clever gadget with sensors that automatically adjust the speed and cleaning action of the brush depending on how it’s held in the mouth, and cleans using sonic vibration (32,500 strokes per minute!) to really attack that plaque. It also comes with a spare brush head so more than one person can use it, which is handy. RRP is £169.99 but it’s on a less than half price offer in Boots at the moment!
Scholl have got a really nice ColourPop manicure set which is like the the professional shaping machines you find in salons. It’s got lots of different filing and shaping heads and is rechargeable too. The little polishing head is useful if you’re not wearing nail varnish to give your nails a lovely shine. Nifty. (RRP £24.99)
TONI&GUY have got loads of amazing hairdryers and gadgets out in lovely kits this Christmas including Twist and Crimp (RRP £50) with which apparently – if you’re clever – it’s possible to crimp the underneath of your hair to give it more volume, or go all out 70s and crimp the whole lot, or the Reverse Conical wand for gorgeous casual waves and curls. We love these as they’re all in beautiful packaging and look really special.
The Snowman is a Christmas classic (30 years young!) and Build a Bear have bought out a special toy this Christmas, perfect for younger teens with a soft spot for film. He retails at £18 and is actually really gorgeous – you can buy him online or go into a Build a Bear store for the full stuffing experience! There’ll be a few adults that would rather like him too, we think!
Excuse the weird ear-selfie, but if you’re looking for beautiful, unique jeweller – for teenagers or anyone else, frankly – look no further than lovely Diva & Me who sent me these gorgeous 14k gold opalite earrings which literally change colour depending on the light – anything from the darkest purple to very light, almost translucent violet. The gold setting is a delicate ‘hand crocheted’ design – have a look at it close up on the website, it’s absolutely amazing. I adore them, and I’m really not a jewellery person.
Lifeproof do AMAZING iPad and iPhone cases that make them completely waterproof, shockproof and even mudproof, rendering their gadget pretty much indestructible. Once sealed (it does take a bit of time to fit, plus you have to test it, but all the instructions are in the box and the test kit is enclosed), it is shock proof from two metres with an IP level of 68, whatever that is, and is so waterproof it can actualy be used as an underwater camera. Brilliant.
Stocking filler wise, I’m always keen to keep away from any sort of useless plastic crap that will be broken by Boxing Day, so we concentrate on anything yummy or useful. The boys get through tons of the Lynx shower gel and shampoo, especially the Apollo scent, so these are always a winner. We love all the Cadbury Christmas chocolate, especially the Winter Wonderland bar. Yum! and Kleenex‘s lovely Winter Originals Christmas pocket tissue packs are cute and handy too.
So following on from fab pressies for foodies, this time it’s the turn of the cook in your life. Don’t immediately discount cookery books as the safe option, there are some fabulous cookbooks out there at this time of year.
The wonderful Eric Lanlard, Master Pâtissier and all-round creative genius has brought out a gorgeous book, perfect for any chocolate lover: Chocolat: Seductive Recipes for Bakes, Desserts, Truffles and Other Treats is stuffed full of every chocolate recipe you could ever want, plus it looks stunning. The perfect gift.
The Great British Vegetable Cookbook by Sybil Kapoor is full of really inventive vegetable recipes – both as accompaniments to main meals and as delicious meals in their own right. It’s wonderfully inspirational when you’re planning meals and would make a lovely gift for a veggie or meat eater.
Another of my favourite books of the year is A Good Egg: a year of recipes from an urban hen-keeper – by Genevieve Taylor. Perfect for anyone who yearns for the simple things – cooking simple, delicious dinners made with produce from your garden and eggs from hens pecking in the yard. It reminds me of classic Nigella books as it’s a lovely read as well as having some really gorgeous recipes. A bedside book, I’d call it. Inspirational.
I must admit I did once get very cross with Mr English for buying me a breadmaker for Christmas. It was when we’d first got together and I thought it was the most unromantic gift I’d ever received. Now, of course, I’d be delighted with a gorgeous appliance and I’ve got my eye on this very pretty pearly Breville Aurora toaster to go with my glossy cream kitchen units.
Next up is cheeeeese! No Christmas is complete without cheese and this one is really special (and extensively tested by me. You’re welcome). The Denhay Dorset Drum of cheddar is a real showstopper and packs a bit of punch, flavour wise. Denhay have now decided to focus all their attention on their bacon, so this is the last time you’ll be able to buy it. Snap one up online (from £25 + p&p) .
For something really special, how about a bottle of English Knightor Brut NV sparkling wine from Cornish winery Knightor. We gave it a try and it really is the perfect festive fizz – light, fruity (peachy?) and with lovely, almost creamy bubbles. You can buy it online, priced £27 from www.knightor.com. Gorgeous.
Experiences make really interesting gifts too. Why not treat your favourite chef/chefette to a course at Padstow Seafood School. They have a fab range of courses starting at £95 for a half day course. Gift cards are available and can be posted direct with a personalised message (they have no expiry date). Check out rickstein.com/seafood-school for details.
And for little stocking fillers? Check out Monin’s gorgeous gingerbread syrup (yummy in coffee, but equally good poured over pancakes or even as an ingredient in cakes), or why not wrap up a couple of Very Lazy’s little pots – the Smoked Chopped Garlic, Smoked Chopped Chillies (our favourite – amazing on pizzas) and Fire-Roasted Sliced Chillies are really interesting and useful – what more could you ask for?!
So here we go with another Christmas gift guide then. They proved so popular that I thought I’d resurrect them and tell you about all the lovely stuff I’ve discovered that will be just perfect for your foodie loved one’s stocking.
First up from Octopus is Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2014 (£11.99). The best selling annual wine guide is back for another year and is indespensible if you’re a wine lover.
Organic Seed & Bean’s organic chocolates are really special, 100% ethical and handmade in the UK. The mini bars would make perfect stocking fillers for a food lover, while the hampers are beautiful.
A really special single malt whisky is a fabulous foodie present. Seek out The Macallan Amber for its smooth toffee apple and cinnamon flavours (available at specialist whisky retailers including The Whisky Shop) or The Glenrothes Select Reserve (around £38) for a touch of citrus and hints of spice – plus I think the bottle is amazing (available from Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Asda and whisky specialists).
Remember Blue Nun? Well now it has released a sparkling limited edition wine, with little flecks of 22 carat gold leaf suspended in it! It’s also available in teeny tiny little bottles that would make cute stocking fillers. I had a taste and it’s exactly as I remember – it’s medium, so if you’re not a fan I think it would be amazing as a party cocktail with a good spritz of lime or maybe a splash of cherry liqueur. Yum. The full size bottle of Blue Nun Sparkling Gold is available to buy exclusively online from Drinks Direct or The Drink Shop for around £10. Or you can buy the little baby bottles from ASDA for £2.25.
Lovely Louisa Cefaz makes the most amazing artisan marshmallow in some amazing flavours (I can testify that the white chocolate peanut butter flavour is to die for). Find Louisa’s amazing creations at: FluffyPuffPuffs.
Kings Fine Food specialise in luxury hampers stuffed with all sorts of really special products (I’m a huge fan of the Amedei Tuscan chocolate that they sell). Hampers start from £49.99 right up to £249.99 and there’s also a gift wrapping service. If anyone wants to buy me a pressie, I’d like to try their very delicious sounding Visciolata Del Cardinale cherry infused wine, thank you please.
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.
Pieminister: A Pie for All Seasons is another of my recent favourites. All manner of gorgeous pastry surprises nestle amongst its pages. Another good looking book, not too girly, which would make a great pressie for your man in the kitchen. Here’s my review.
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.
And lastly, but by no means leastly, the delightful Lorraine Pascale’s Home Cooking Made Easy. Another lovely Twitterer (Tweeter?), Lorraine Pascale’s books are some of my very favourites. Her recipes are faff free, easy and delicious. I love her easy manner and find her eminently watchable on TV. Looking forward to the big Christmas programme too (22nd December, 8pm on BBC2)!
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 email@example.com to order what you would like.
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