Top Ten Christmas Gifts for 2012 – Personal Favourites
Every year we put together a list of the products we have tried and loved over the year and include them in our Christmas List. 2012 has been a memorable year for visits, tastings and tests.
These are our favourites:
Chocolate bouquet – can’t think of anything more tempting than this astonishingly beautiful chocolate bouquet – we’re sending it as a family gift to five families who live far and wide who will be meeting up for Christmas in a country house in the Midlands. A smaller bouquet and individual flowers are also available. Utterly charming, seems a shame to eat them.
Last year we were impressed by and ordered several items from the Thompson & Morgan catalogue of bouquets and other floral gifts. This year they have added to the items on offer. All details on their website.
Booja Booja chocolate truffles are oh so yum! Organic and made by hand, we have to restrict ourselves to one each a day until the box is empty. Delicious flavours include raspberry – our absolute favourite is the Champagne Truffle … so irresistible they should be banned! Ingredients for chocolate aficionados: Dark chocolate (cocoa solids 55%, cane sugar, emulsifier, soya lecithin, vanilla, coconut oil, champagne 8%, Agave, Cocoa powder.
Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is always interesting and on our return from a two month stay in France we immediately bought a hand blender – there are lots on the market but we plumped for the Sainsbury 200K version. At the surprising price of £4.13 it does the job quite well and is good enough for soups, blending cooked fruit and vegetables. We love the flexibility of blending direct in the saucepan. Much less washing up. For slicing, chopping and making small quantities of sauce our Magimix is indispensable – it has considerably more power with well designed cutting discs.
We love our Russell Hobbs Brita Filter Kettle. Living in a hard water and limescale area, dark rings on cups and a film on coffee and tea is really noticeable and slightly unpleasant. All that disappears using this filter kettle and your tea and coffee tastes so much better too. Of course you have the ongoing expense of the filters, but we prefer that to the unpleasant effects of scale. We use the filtered water for cooking as well.
Another useful device in the French kitchen was a simple Spoon Rest. I could only search out one, in John Lewis, the Playnation Ceramic Rest costs £8. It’s big enough to hold more than one wooden spoon, it gives me less cleaning to do of food marks on the worktop. Just throw it in the dishwasher, well best not to throw … Definitely the most useful piece of kitchen kit I have come across in years.
Digital scales As I am on a calorie restricted food programme (called a diet by everyone else!) an accurate, easy to clean, set of scales is essential. Again John Lewis came up trumps and I was pleased the nicest one I found, Salter 1036 Electronic Disc Kitchen Scale, 5kg, Black only cost £12.80. It has a lot of positive reviews.
I was lucky enough to interview Stanley Kubrick’s widow, Christiane, a month or so ago to talk about her, painting, work methods and style. The feature will appear in the New Year.
Christiane was kind enough to sign a copy of the Taschen Book: The Stanley Kubrick Archives for us to offer to In Balance readers. This giveaway will appear on this website early in 2013.
The book is the first to explore Kubrick’s archives and the most comprehensive study of the filmmaker to date. It would be a must for any film buff. Reviews on the Taschen website are enlightening.
Another book we came across is Uniquely British, A Year in the Life of The Household Cavalry, written by serving officers and soldiers. The book covers events that took place during 2011 and 2012 and gives a unique insight into the background activities of a 350 year old organisation. Published to fund the launch of the Household Cavalry Foundation, a new charity to support serving soldiers, operational casualties, veterans or even their horses. Uniquely British is available direct from the publishers Tricorn Books, who presumably pay their British taxes which is more than be said about that huge organisation that sends most of its UK profits home to the US whose name begins with a capital A and from whom we assume you wouldn’t order this book. Sorry, our prejudices are showing.
OTHER Favourites to Give you Inspiration
For those who find listening to book a lifeline when driving long distance, or doing any repetitive activity like gym work, talking books might be an appropriate gift. Our recent feature gives details
George Foreman Grill – Absolutely besotted with this easy to make sandwich grill that cooks steaks to a T! Our feature gives details
Rose Oil is our absolute favourite product for facial care. From Living Nature we would never be without it!
Belleville Rendezvous – If you haven’t seen this do have a look at our feature – it’s a cartoon which is so funny and whacky yet charming and engaging.
Insect House – This is a fascinating item to attracts insects that will stay in your garden to help pollinate your fruit and vegetables. Young children love it. Our recent feature gives details.
And FINALLY, we’ve left the best until last! We spent an overnight spa stay at Whittlebury Hall. We so enjoyed this. A world class hydrotherapy centre, offering a vast range of treatments, beautiful decor, spacious accommodation, wonderful food … seriously large swimming pool, golf course, beautiful grounds to explore … You might just like to book up one of the special deals on offer up to Christmas! I took my husband who loved it … now that’s a recommendation!
Phew, I hope you find something of interest to choose as a thoughtful gift.
Good luck and the compliments of the season!
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
Want to Brush up on your History? Visit the Theatre!
Move forward a couple of centuries and, for the next play, the audience finds itself in 19th century London, bookended by two short scenes that take place in Poland some 30 years later. Red Velvet is currently playing at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. Written by Lolita Chakrabarti and starring her husband Adrian Lester (Mickey of Hustle fame) it tells the story when the legendary English actor Edmund Kean is taken ill and his role as Othello is taken over by a black American actor, Ira Aldridge; his style is considerably more avant garde than that of the English cast, with their ‘teapot’ acting techniques (imagine the item and then the comparable actor’s stance), with the majority of the cast using this as a ready-made excuse to display their prejudices. And all this is set against the background of the Abolition of Slavery Act. Despite the efforts of the radical French producer of the play, the English press is clearly not ready for this, and as a result of damning criticism of the play and his acting style, Aldridge never appears on the London stage again. A final note: Lester will be taking on the role of Othello at London’s National Theatre next spring.
The final play I’m writing about is This House at the National Theatre. It’s currently showing at the flexible Cottesloe space with the downstairs seats arranged as in the House of Commons. The play tells of the five years of knife-edge Labour government between 1974 and 1979 – knife-edge because with wafer thin majorities, they only hung on by the skin of their teeth and by ferrying in ‘walking wounded’ and those almost at death’s door for crucial votes. The main focus is on the whips’ office, a topical subject in the ‘pleb-gate’ context, and the wheeler-dealer shennanigans necessary to retain power. As with so many productions at the Cottesloe, it’s currently sold out; however, the good news is that it’s transferring to the large Olivier stage at the National in the new year.
Top Ten Good Books to Read Again, Again and Again
Favourite books from readers – all of them have been read more than once and they would never ever give them away. Eat your heart out Oxfam!
Heidi – a heartrending story by Johanna Spyri of such poignancy that it still makes me cry every time I read it even now at 70! J Jarvis
The Rough Guide to Classic Novels – this is such a good crib book. It’s used it a lot just to keep me up with those references in the media that crop up from time to time – I’m always up to date! J Gorringe
The Man who Planted Trees – a very short but hugely inspiring book – it renews hope and faith in the human psyche. L Alexander
RHS Pruning by Christopher Brickell – I’ve had this book for more than 30 years and it never lets me down. V McDonald
How to Grow Fresh Air – an astonishing book that came out of research for a breathable environment for a lunar habitat. K Colston
Travels with Watercolour – Lucy Willis inspires her readers to be courageous in their painting in new surroundings. S Walling
Mr Thrifty’s How to save money on absolutely everything – a hugely amusing and useful book written by Jane Furnival, now sadly no longer with us. A book to read and read – get a copy! K Gardner
Food in England – Dorothy Hartley wrote a series of books based on her travels around the UK in the 1930’s to 1950’s. Her beautiful line drawings are humorous as well as accurate and her description makes her books essential for anyone interested in social history. J Marshall
Way of the Peaceful Warrior – a lyrical, hauntingly beautiful book that might just change your life! I go back to it regularly. K Campbell
Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible, successful gardening the natural way The first book I go to when needing inspiration, reliable and understandable guidance for the garden. V Reynolds
All these books are of course available on Amazon, however rather than support a company that doesn’t want to pay tax on its UK profits perhaps you could find a bookseller who does. We are researching this – if you have any suggestions do get in touch.
If you have some favourites feel free to send an email to email@example.com
Do you have any books you use to read in the gym when on the walking machine? Here’s a link to our feature.
Reading on the Gym Treadmill!
Having become rather bored with the MTV screen at the gym I tried reading while on the treadmill. Magazines printed on shiny paper reflected too much light for me to read very much and the type size meant I had to hold it to be able to read it.
Then I hit on the idea of getting large print books from the library. The choice was limited to several hundred in the usual classifications. I read all the biographies I liked the look of – many were excellent but most were not very well written. I went through the fiction fairly quickly too. However, reading as I exercised worked – on one occasion I had set the timer for an hour and I read an Agatha Christie thriller – at one point the machine seemed to judder and looking at the readout I had reached cool down. The hour and a half had passed very very quickly.
I was addicted! But then I ran out of books to read! I hit on the idea of music to listen to which I hoped would keep my speed up and make me smile! So I bought an ipod shuffle. A dinky little thing that I can transfer music from my cds/dvds, via my computer. I was set up with some of my favourite Elton John and Queen. Joy!
Then I discovered talking books. There are hundreds to choose from at the local library! But what to choose? The same problem I had choosing fiction surfaced again. Anyway I chose a book at random – short stories by Walter Mosley. Absolutely fantastic. So good that when I woke up in the middle of the night I continued to listen which sent me to sleep, eventually. The next problem to be solved was extraneous noise – the noise in the gym makes it difficult to hear all the recording, low notes especially so I looked for headphones to cut all that out.
Here are some of the books I found on the Naxos Spoken Word List:
- Classic American Short Stories (unabridged)
More Classic American Short Stories (unabridged)
Great Ghost Stories (unabridged)
The Clumsy Ghost and Other Spooky Tales (unabridged)
Tales from the Greek Legends (unabridged)
More Tales from the Greek Legends (unabridged)
Tales from the Norse Legends (unabridged)
I’m a fan of Guy de Maupassant and was pleased to see Great Ghost Stories (unabridged) and Normandy Stories (selections)
Sadly there are no recordings of Somerset Maughan’s work, maybe in the near future, I think he is one of the most entertaining short story writers I have ever read.
Audio books are a really good ‘listen’ rather than printed versions, that help pass away that tedious time on the treadmill or other mechanical device in the gym when there is nothing to do but think about your problems, last night’s tv viewing and trying to avoid listening/watching some of the mindless stuff on the gym screens.
To help you choose a recording you can listen to short excerpts on the Naxos Spoken Word List before you buy. All the recordings are available on iTunes.
Peaches Lonsdale Contributing author
Guidance on Providing Gluten Free food for Christmas Parties
Gluten free buffets can be difficult if one is unprepared
Here are some guidelines written by Sallie Darnell, professional cook
- When invited to a party make clear your dietary requirements. Often a phone call to your chosen venue can save an embarrassing experience.
- If you are in doubt about any food do not eat it
- Another good suggestion is to eat prior to going out so if there turns out to be nothing suitable for you won’t be too hungry
- Restaurants these days are quite happy to give you a list of ingredients used in their kitchens. From this you should be able to ascertain which ingredients are not suitable for you ie hidden starches in sauces or soups, wheat in soy sauce etc
When entertaining yourself life can be a little easier as you have more control over the food. Here are some ideas for quick nibbles: both home-made and commercially prepared
Plain nuts, olives, a bowl of large prawns , sushi
Dips – ready made humus, salsa, tahini – but check labels served with crudities (carrots, celery, cucumber, cauliflower) crisps or tortillas
Home-made: Tzaziki – yoghurt with mint and cucumber and garlic
Smoked mackerel dip – made by blending together 100g smoked mackerel, 150g thick yoghurt, 2 tabsp lemon juice, 1tsp lemon rind, salt and pepper
Sliced polenta topped with stilton cheese and sliced cherry tomatoes – flashed under the grill just before serving
Chicken fillets tossed in rice flour, then beaten egg, coated in dry polenta and deep fried. Serve with a lemon and caper flavoured yoghurt
Smoked salmon wrapped round mini sweet corn
Mini wheatfree pancakes/blinis with various toppings eg smoked salmon and dill sauce, beetroot and horseradish sauce (check label)
Celery stuffed with tartex pate or smoked mackerel pate
Courgettes stuffed with ratatouille or chilli
Mini potato rosti with lemon and chive cream
Croutes of gluten free bread fried and topped with rare roast beef and gluten free pesto, quails egg, halloumi and apple, feta cheese and black olives
Sadly Sally is no longer with us, but her recipes live on. Thanks Sally, we love your delicious meals.