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
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.
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.
Morrisons have created the NuMe (pronounced new me) range of prepared foods. Chilled, frozen and store cupboard products all offer lots of health benefits. With 300 lines to choose from and new ones being added all the time they are great for those following a low fat and calorie controlled diet and anyone wanting to know the ingredient content.
We tried the Beetroot yogurt and mint dip – very tasty – great to eat on crispbread or add to a plain salad £1.19/70g.
The Pea and Mint cuppa soup was surprisingly tasty – we added a few frozen peas to give us something to chew on! 69p – four portions.
Sea Bass with Spinach and Parmesan Risotto £4.99 – 2 portions, married with Italian Bean Stew £1.75/400 g was delicious.
The whole range is innovative – the ones we have tried very tasty and reasonably priced – highly recommended – look out for them when next you visit Morrisons. We’ll be writing about their Christmas range of foods soon – well worth waiting for!
BerryWhite – an innovative organic range of flavoured teas – we tried Pomegranate and Blueberry with White Tea – a still fruit drink with white tea – which we liked very much. Why white tea? It is the least processed form of tea, made from the youngest silver buds which are gently steam, then dried and thereby contains more nutrients than other teas. Launched this year by Andrew Jennings there are several more drinks to try, see their website for details and where to buy.
Owen Potts has been an inventor of inspired recipes for over 15 years. He has developed recipes for supermarkets, household brands, farm shops over the years and in 2010 alone he developed over 1,000 recipes!
We love the Owen Potts’ range and recently tried the Maple Chipotle Barbecue and Grilling Sauce … Yum, great for indoor and outdoor additions to food. Try it on sausages, meat, anything actually – the older kids loved its spicyness mixed in with familiar flavours!
Available in most supermarkets – see the website for specific stockists.
And finally, Weightwatchers. Such a range, but we were specially taken with their biscuits. We tried the pack of 5 Chocolate Biscuits – amazingly good! We will definitely be putting these in our trolley on our next visit to the supermarket. Coated with thick Belgian milk chocolate, 89 calories, 4.2g fat, wrapped separately – excellent we won’t be tempted to eat the whole packet.
We also tried the Fruit Crumble biscuits – apple, blueberry and raspberry – crumbly biscuit base, topped with crunchy flakes. A very definite thumbs up from our tasters who all said they would buy them. Again separately wrapped, 89 calories, 2.4g fat.
Dare we tell you about the new Milk Chocolate Digestives? Have a look on their website to see the other 12 varieties!
As you would expect with such a popular range of foods, they are available in all the major supermarkets.
Kate Campbell, Contributing author
Honey: We love Honey and we really love Manuka honey. It has quite a strong flavour but one it’s easy to become accustomed to. Used for a lot of skin problems there is always some in our bathroom cabinet.
Manuka honey mostly comes from New Zealand and has a guide as to its strength, you will see UMF 16+, 25+, 10+ included on the label. UMF stands for Unique Manuka Factor, used to indicate how bioactive it is. So which to buy for what?
We keep a pot of Spirit’s Bay Manuka Honey UMF25+ in a kitchen cupboard for burns and cuts. It really works, I wish I had known about it when I badly burned the inside of my wrist some 15 years ago. I still have a scar, whereas now whenever I burn myself – and how easy it is in the kitchen – I quickly dab some on, cover it with a piece of lint and tape to keep it in place and within 12 hours you wouldn’t know anything had happened. It’s that good.
For general wellness we keep a pot of Goldenhills Manuka Honey UMF16+ to eating on bread and butter, or with a hot lemon drink for sore throats.
For particularly sore throats we have some Comvita propolis herbal elixir in the medicine cupboard. It includes Manuka Honey UMF10, multiflora honey, apple cider vinegar, Vit C, and peppermint.
All in all, honey is a unique food and Ogilvy’s are able to provide really unusual honeys – Balkan Linden honey, well known for its lightness and woody scent, is especially good in tea. Other unusual honeys include one from the Himalayan Highlands – light and delicious, remarkably floral. Another we tried comes from the Zambesi Plains. Different again in flavour due to the plants the bees gather the nectar from, this is gathered at the head of the Zambesi River by local beekeepers.
Ogilvy honeys are a special gift for any honey aficionados – yes there are lots of them! You might be surprised if you asked around. Widely available – their website most interesting.
Spirit’s Bay 25+ and Goldenhills 16+ are widely available in health food stores and their websites.
Joan Marshall, Contributing author
The latest ‘warning’ that low levels of selenium in British soil* are having a damaging effect on our health as we are not getting enough of the mineral through the food we eat, is yet another spur to buy yet more supplements.
Most people I talk to about this find the whole subject confusing. Many friends say they take a multi vitamin tablet every day just to be on the safe side. And yet we hear from scientists that our diet is quite adequate and multi vitamin tablets are unnecessary and natural sources are far easier for our bodies to digest.
So this latest selenium information is I feel just adding to the confusion and for manufacturers to benefit from our anxiety.
A nutritionist has pointed out that natural sources of selenium include sardines, sunflower seeds, prawns, eggs, wholemeal flour and lean meat. Brazil nuts are an especially concentrated source of selenium.
So as brazil nuts, sardines and prawns don’t grow in British soil I’ll be eating some of each every week.
PS Brazils are high in fat – 10g = 6.8g fat, 68kCal and even higher if surrounded by chocolate!
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
*With so much fruit and veg imported from abroad I wonder just how valid this ‘warning’ is.
One of the authors of The Serotonin Diet, Dr Nina T Frusztajer MD, regularly writes a blog we always read for its insights into human behaviour. Her latest blog Can Eating Breakfast Make You Fat? is thought provoking. Directly relevant to the US way of being which is interesting in itself, the article included a couple of points worth remembering for all of us:
Your body needs to be rehydrated after a night of slumber
The brain needs protein to make the chemicals that make you quick thinking and sharply
The blog is freely available and easily subscribed to.
Can Eating Breakfast Make You Fat?
My early morning trek to the gym takes me past a Dunkin Donut shop and a long line of sleepy commuters waiting to buy breakfast. The shelves of this franchise coffee shop are stocked with varieties of doughnuts, muffins, bagels and breakfast sandwiches of an egg with cheese and fatty meat. As I continue down the block, people are standing in long lines at MacDonalds so they can eat a hot meal of scrambled egg and hashbrowned potatoes, or cream saturated oatmeal, pancakes and syrup, or egg, ham and cheese breakfast sandwiches, along with their coffee. Two blocks away, an up-scale neighborhood bakery-coffee shop sells fatty, chocolate filled croissants or butter laden, gigantic cranberry scones and gourmet coffee to people working at a nearby hospital. And at a convenience store across the street from my gym, high school students filter in to buy a bottle of soda and bag of Doritos to eat on the way to school.
Nutritionists tell us (and in the interests of full disclosure, I have written about this myself) that breakfast is the most important meal of the day or at the very least, just as important as lunch and dinner. ‘Start the day off right’ or ‘Fuel your body’ or ‘Don’t eat breakfast and you will overeat later on’ are just a few of the Eat Breakfast mantras sent in our direction for several decades. Yet is it possible that eating breakfast may not be beneficial? Is it possible that breakfast may be contributing unnecessary calories without contributing necessary nutrients? Could it be that eating breakfast might actually put us back to sleep rather than activating our cognitive centers and mental acuity? Can breakfast be bad for us?
Of course the answer is that it depends on what is eaten. As I pointed out in a book written many years ago (Managing Your Mind and Mood Through Food), your brain needs protein in the morning which can and should be supplied by breakfast, if only to set you up for success.
The two brain chemicals involved in thinking quickly and sharply (dopamine and norepinephrine) are made when the amino acid tyrosine is eaten. Tyrosine is found in protein, and when these two brain chemicals are in short supply, eating protein will activate their synthesis. Presumably anyone going off to a job or school requiring some thinking and mental responsiveness would benefit from a breakfast containing protein.
Carbohydrates tend to make people feel calm and mellow; and fat goes further in this behavioral direction and leaves the eater dull and tired. Although these feelings might be appropriate as a prelude to sleep, this is not the way we want to feel early in the morning as we set out to face the obligations of the day. Do we really want a surgeon, teacher or airline pilot to eat a breakfast of sugary doughnuts fried in fat, buttery croissants, or pancakes drenched in butter and syrup? Should we with lesser, but nevertheless important, jobs be eating these foods?
We know that a functioning digestive system needs fiber and water. Fast food breakfast menus rarely if ever feature high fiber cereals or breads. Do any people order a large cup of water along with their coffee? Might the digestive problems constantly talked about in television advertisements be caused, at least in part, by dehydrated morning folk who don’t drink enough fluids or eat enough fiber?
Those who eschew dairy products such as milk and cottage cheese often suffer from lactose deficiency. They will rarely find lactose-free milk for their coffee, and dieters who want fat free yogurt will have to settle for the full fat variety in the few coffee shops and fast food chains that carry that product. Want cottage cheese? Better bring it from home. But if you want your morning dairy food to be whipped cream, you need only go to your local Starbucks or fast food chain to find it on top of a sugary syrup and chocolate filled coffee drink, a nutritional wasteland.
Fruit cups, sold everywhere, may compensate somewhat for the nutritional limitations of take-out breakfasts. But do they? Regardless of season and state in which they are sold, most fruit cups contain the same variety of fruit: chunks of cantaloupe and honey dew, a few grapes, one sliced strawberry and three blueberries. High vitamin C fruits like oranges and grapefruits are rarely included, and the high fiber blueberries and strawberries are provided in miniscule amounts even when the supermarkets are filled with them. Are they mass-produced in a factory somewhere or is the selection of fruits based on their resilience to being turned into mush if the cup is stuffed into the bottom of a knapsack?
It strikes me that a lack of time is usually the reason breakfast is purchased rather than eaten at home before leaving for work. But how much time is actually saved by purchasing breakfast? The ten minutes standing in line to order and pay for coffee and bagel at Dunkin Doughnut could be spent at home eating a container of yogurt with fresh blueberies or bowl of high fiber cereal, milk and banana . The ten minutes it takes to order, pay and receive the egg or pancake platter at MacDonalds is more time that it takes to scramble an egg and toast an English muffin at home. Buying cut up fresh or frozen fruit and plastic cups in the supermarket and spending a minute making a fruit cup at home may take more time but at least you get to choose the fruit rather than someone in a factory.
Not hungry early in the morning? Bring breakfast foods with you to eat later on in the morning. Bring single size servings of yogurt and cottage cheese and fruit to work or school. Keep a bowl and spoon in your desk drawer along with a box of high fiber cereal. Store milk and fruit ( not bananas) in the office refrigerator, or put blueberries in a sandwich bag in the freezer to add to the cereal. Another option is to make your own breakfast sandwich on whole grain bread with soft low calorie cheese like Laughing Cow and lean breakfast meat. And make sure to drink water even if you are not hungry. Your body needs to be rehydrated after a night of slumber.
The right breakfast foods will not only nourish your body, they will have a positive effect on your ability to concentrate and think rapidly. So instead of standing in line for ten minutes to get your morning coffee, stand in your kitchen and eat breakfast there or take it with you to work. Your brain and body will thank you.
A copy of French Provincial Cooking by Elizabeth David was on my shelf for years and years, and when it disappeared I didn’t notice for a long time! Enough to say I had used it so frequently it was falling to bits, her philosophy and recipes the basis of my own cooking, with adaptations of course, and gradually I didn’t have need to refer to it very often.
What a joy it was to get a copy of Elizabeth David’s Table – her very best everyday recipes compiled by Jill Norman. Reading it I got that comfortable feeling of meeting up with an old friend and read it cover to cover. The inclusion of some down to earth features she wrote for various papers and publications over the years placed at the beginning of the various sections of the book made it a joy to read. Her distinctive, no nonsense way of describing a recipe and how to make it remains in my memory.
I loved her description of the market town of Cavaillon and history of the surrounding area. Full of imagery, her writing is inspirational.
I immediately started adding PostIt notes to mark recipes, Coriander Mushrooms, Aubergine Chutney, Chicken Liver Pate, Pork and Liver Pate – this recipewas one I used at a party many years ago, although I never got to eat any, it went so fast! Rillettes, Green Gnocchi, Broad Beans with bacon, egg and lemon, so many recipes I had forgotten. Those broad bean recipes in particular stimulated my purchase of some “http://realseeds.co.uk/”>Aquadulce Longpod seeds; well adapted for winter sowing and early spring eating.
I love this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in tasty, no fuss cooking, and wanting to experiment without making a hash of things!
Published by Penguin in hardback and softback editions
Lizbeth Canvey, Contributing author and professional cook
Most people seem to agree that finding the perfect gift for their dad is one of the least easy tasks of the year. Here are some ideas from our thoughtful team to inspire you:
Wine holiday in Oporto Built into the hillside of the spectacular Duoro Valley, The Yeatman hotel in Oporto is inspired by the celebrated wines of the region. Guests can seriously indulge themselves during the weekly wine evenings, tasting soirees and cookery courses. The extensive wine cellars hold 25,000 bottles alone and the in-house Michelin starred chef, Ricardo Costsa, is always on-hand to educate guests about food pairing. Even The Yeatman’s vinotherapy spa will be difficult for Dads to resist, as it offers a Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Bath or body scrub. Prices from €150 per night.
Failing that why not a bottle of Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage Port 2005, available from £13.79 at most retail outlets nationwide. Here is a link to information on the website
Or he might have loads of the stuff in the cupboard but may not have some luscious glasses to savour it – we would choose the beautiful Riedel Port Glasses available at John Lewis and Amazon.
How about a short holiday break for someone mad on fishing? Forget Salmon Fishing in the Yemen although a couple of tickets might go down a treat! – how about Fly fishing in the Maldives All hard-working fathers deserve peace and quiet once in a while, and you would be hard pressed to find a more relaxing and tranquil outdoor pursuit than fly-fishing. On a secluded private island in North Maldives, Island Hideaway resort boasts deepwater channels and expansive shallow flats, ideal for whiling away the hours until that longed-for catch comes along. Prices from £1350 per week during low season, and £2300 during high season. OK, so that might be a bit over the top! How about The Ultimate Guide Book to Fishing? This Google page might give ideas.
Right, nothing so far appeals? What about a luxury wet shave? Harking back to simpler times when every man had a trusty barber to see to his beard and whiskers, in London the Spa at Dolphin Square offers chaps the rare chance to pamper themselves with a range of traditional Moroccan wet shaves. Choose from the age-old Savon Noir shave, which cleanses by combining crushed olives, olive oil and Eucalyptus (£35), or go all out with a Moroccan Cleansing Ritual, incorporating a Hammam and Shea Butter Massage, followed by the relaxing shave (£104). This would appeal to many men I know so it could be a winner!
On a more basic level though why not a gift voucher from B&Q? Lots of us like browsing in DIY stores, especially new and improved gadgets!
Or why not some Ogilvy’s honey – their Balkan Linden Honey is rather special. Gathered from colonies in the Danube region of Serbia. This honey was one of four varieties of Ogilvy’s Honey to win gold stars in the 2011 Great Taste Awards organised by The Guild of Fine Food. It is rather special – you can find more information on the Ogilvy’s website.
If you live in or near London then of course you could take him for a meal – Ping Pong in Soho is excellent, The Sanderson in Berners St has a wonderful dining area as has the Lanesborough Hotel opposite Hyde Park Corner. What about some tickets to a game at The Arsenal? A visit to the House of Commons to see Parliament in action and a meal in one of the boats on the river. Or a boat trip on the Thames? Of course you could just go for a walk in Hyde Park and have something to eat in one of the many cafes in the park.
Or how about an App for his iPhone or iPad – he doesn’t have one? There’s two more ideas!
Hope you might find one of these inspiring! Good luck – you have just three days left!
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor