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
How often have you been seduced by the REDUCED label in a supermarket – say ten or more onions, or like today, twenty limes – in your supermarket and find it irresistible and confidently expecting to make something of it? But it gets put to one side, gradually to the back of the fridge, forgotten and then discarded, optimism lost in the chasm of inertia! Well it has happened to me of course. The good news is that it happens less often now. Why? I can explore the web for ideas of what can be done with whatever I have bought.
Today I have twenty limes – these are going to be either made into lime curd (my mouth is watering at the prospect!) which takes very little time, or lime chutney – here’s a Google page with lots of recipe sites to choose from.
I collect jars to re-use and buy new tops from Lakeland. Jam and curd take time but very rewarding and make good standby gifts for many occasions.
A recent cookery course I attended included truffles – three different flavours, one including lime zest* which gives me the excuse to make some. They are so luscious I’m not sure they will get to their intended recipients … we just love ‘em! We rolled the truffles in a mix of plain and toasted coconut.
Here’s a recipe I found on the web which is similar to the one I used on the course.
Celeriac, not as often used by home cooks here as they do say in France, is frequently reduced in my local supermarket and it gives me the opportunity to produce Salmon with mustard coating, potato, pea and celeriac mash found on the BBC Good Food website. Again a recipe that works very well.
It’s this time of year when I look out for peaches and nectarines getting lower and lower in price and especially in the Reduced section. Then I usually reach for Elizabeth David’s cook book – At Elizabeth David’s Table – for her easy recipe Peaches in Wine. She tells us the best peaches for this dish are the yellow-fleshed variety. Dip the fruit in boiling water so the skins can be easily peeled off. Slice them straight into big wine glasses, sprinkle with sugar and pour a tablespoon or two of white wine into each glass. Preparing them too far ahead will make the fruit go mushy. If you would like to give the glasses an attractive look, before you start working on the fruit, put a little water in a saucer, put sugar in another saucer, holding the glass upside down gently dip the glass in the water, shake it to remove any excess water, dip the glass in the saucer of sugar, shake off any excess. Voila! You can now add the fruit and wine, carefully! This works with lots of different fruits and you could experiment with flavoured liqueurs – Cointreau and oranges, raspberries and pear vodka! Pears and raspberry liqueur, the list could go on … and on. Just experiment, great fun.
By the way, my favourite prune sweet is to use prunes soaked in white wine – could be red – for at least 3 months. I use screwtop jars, covered with cling film and the cap screwed on lightly, no need to tighten hard. This is so easy to do and makes a wonderful treat with custard! or cream or even better fromage frais, unsweetened. I keep them in a cupboard out of sight otherwise they are just too easy to dip into and devour the lot!
* For any recipe using lime zest be sure to remove the wax generally added to citrus fruit, unless marked as unwaxed. The easiest way to do this is to dunk the fruit in boiling water for 5 minutes, twice if needs be.
Katie Simpson Guest writer, Caterer for the Choosey
I knew we were low on wine, in fact only a couple of bottles of rose cava which we usually only drink on special occasions, were loitering on the shelf. So I thought I would have another look at the Virgin Wine website where I had ordered a case of mixed white wines earlier in the year. Although my husband had sniffed at the absence of corks we rather liked the selection and they were drunk enthusiastically.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am most definitely not a wine connoisseur, I’m unable to tell one grape from another. However I have made wine over a period of more than 35 years with various ingredients, from potato to sultana, from peach to raspberry and also our own grapes grown in the garden, so I have a certain tolerance/experience of unusual/different flavours.
With wines conventionally made from grapes I know what I like the taste of and it is quite a range, but I always enjoy Chardonnay and Merlot, without always looking at the label. So looking at the Virgin Wine website I was interested to see what was on offer in their Auction section.
Several cases of really interesting mixes and bids were quite low. The bidding works like e-Bay, so I put some bids in and noticed the bidding increased as the time ran out, and I didn’t win any.
I decided then to place a fixed bid overall on eight different auctions running at the same time and watch how things went. The strategy worked … rather too well actually. Within a few minutes of the auctions closing I received an email telling me I had won one auction, then another, and another, and another, and another, and another. Six in all! I was breathless with surprise. I felt a bit like the sorcerer’s apprentice in the Disney film, they wouldn’t stop coming.
Although I was pleased my strategy had worked, how on earth would I explain this ‘success’ to my ever loving husband? I really hadn’t expected to win any actually, the bidding was quite fast towards the end and I couldn’t tell whether mine had been successful. I knew the auction conditions do not allow cancellation of bids, so six cases of wine were instantly winging their way to me. I decided to send him an email, much easier to explain the finer details than face to face explanation – no I’m not a coward, but he is profoundly deaf and all that entails …
Darling Good news, I have ‘won’ several Virgin wine auctions, average price £4.0729 a bottle. The bad news is we will have to find enough space as I have been rather more successful than I expected … Good news also, we won’t have to buy any wine for a few months … Just don’t be surprised when several boxes arrive … L/Kate, your rather too successful wine auction bidder!!!
I received what I thought was a fantastic reply:
We could ask the family to look after the excess. Well done!
How supportive is that? Actually I wouldn’t trust the family to look after the excess … too much of a temptation, so we will be finding space in the garage. I wonder whether I would be just as successful again … reluctantly I have given myself a six month ban before I have another go. The Virgin Wines promise of a refund if you don’t like the wine was very reassuring. I hope we like all the wines, but realistically there may well be some we don’t, in which case it will be interesting to see how the system works. One bonus that popped into my mind, with the cost of the cases being so reasonable we might consider giving some as Christmas presents, but then again … www.virginwines.co.uk/auctions
A little of what you fancy does you good, with the emphasis on little, we were intrigued with the Cocktail Bitters Traveller’s Pack. This little box contains tangy aromatic bitters with hints to cinnamon, cardamom, anise and cloves, gingerbread aromas perfectly suited to drinks based on spirits like Whisky, Rum, Brancy and Tequila. We made up several cocktails Manhattan Cocktail, Dry Martini Coctail, Brandy Cocktail, Bloody Mary and Old Fashioned Cocktail. All went down a treat with no particular favourite emerging … After trying all five! It was fun making up these wellknown cocktails and kept us entertained for an evening. These bitters come in a neat metal container, ideal if you want to make and enjoy your own cocktails when away without paying what are sometimes extortionate prices. Unusual liqueurs are also available to liven up things: Apricot Liqueur, Pimento Dram, Violet Liqueur for instance and of course Sloe Gin with tonic. Have you ever tried Sloe Gin with champagne? Do try it, lovely on a hot summer’s afternoon. More information and cocktail recipes on the website.
We also came across Abelha Organic Cachaça, a very unusual spirit made from fresh sugar cane with no pesticides nor artificial fertilisers, fermented with natural yeasts, and aged in native ash barrels. Find out more about this most unusual spirit from Brazil on www.abelha.co.uk.
While on the subject of the unusual, we have been trying Harveys Bristol Cream served over ice with a slice of orange. Rather good, and then, for the purpose of making sure Aunt Aggie is fully catered for, we have tried drizzling Harveys VORS Pedro Ximénez 30 y.o. over creamy vanilla ice cream. This is just fantastic. With any luck you might have some over for Boxing Day … Although we have the suspicion that it won’t last. It was absolutely fab. Do try some. There are more suggestions and cocktail tips on the Harveys website www.harveyshalfhour.co.uk.
And finally we tried a Funkin Mixer – Strawberry Woo Woo with a shot of vodka. This was so well received we had to fight off the staff. One swig and they were hooked! We had to promise to get some for our office get together on Friday. When we found the order line we were hard pressed to choose which ones, in the end we chose a Party Pack so everyone will be happy – especially on Friday.
Wishing you good fun with your Festive Spirits!
Val Reynolds Brown
In the space of a year we see a fair number of items we rather like. Here are our top ten we think would make fabulous, interesting and thoughtful gifts for Christmas 2011. They are of course equally appropriate at other times of the year.
1. Novelli Cooking Knives
These knives will last a lifetime, in fact they are designed to last for more than one generation. Beautifully balanced, made from the best of materials they are a joy to work with. We love using them. More …
2. A Footplate Holiday in Poland – The Steam Engine Enthusiast’s Dream More …
3. However this beautiful book Great Railway Maps of the World may be a less generous gift than a trip to Poland but just as acceptable we’re sure. More …
4. Forever Rumpole
The loveable legal rough diamond Horace Rumpole who refers to his wife as She who must be obeyed, conjures up an appropriate bon mot whatever the occasion. Forever Rumpole is a fine choice for bedtime reading. More …
5. A History of the World in 100 Objects
Oh yes, this is bedtime reading for at least a year! This is a great dip into book, with 100 historical objects to read about, from the earliest surviving object made by human hands to the 100th object – a solar powered lamp and charger. It would fascinate anyone interested in man’s history. Wonderful book. More …
6. Garden tools Investing in garden tools can be a hit and miss affair but here are three we have tried and liked for their utility. We loved the Fiskar trowel, patio broom and axes – our choice for 2012. More …
7. Growing plants from seeds is one of our passions. We usually go for Thompson & Morgan seeds but sometimes when we can’t find what we are looking for, we look at the Sow Seeds website. A small independent seed business based in Cheshire offering the home gardener, allotment holder and commercial growers the finest quality seeds at great prices it is worthy of support. They provide Gift Vouchers and Seed Boxes, ideal gifts for beginner gardeners and old timers alike.
And for those you know who suffered in the drought this year we highly recommend having some Supa Drippas to hand just in case it happens again next year. More …
8. Our kitchen waste is now being collected in the kitchen itself, saves us going down the garden in all weathers. This is achieved because we are now using a Bokashi composter – the micro organic process with no smell. Believe us when we say it is so good we keep telling everyone about it! And it is our favourite gift to our gardening friends. More …
9. For every harassed Mum or Dad – the answer to replacing damaged playthings! Saves a fortune – a lifeline especially to anyone not handy with broken stuff. A great stocking filler/tree gift. More …
10. Our final suggestion is a course at the Wine Academy in Queen Anne St, Marylebone, for anyone you know interested in knowing much more about wine. We recently attended a wine and food matching course, absolutely excellent, led by Suzy Atkins, wine writer for The Times. We can’t rate this highly enough. Fantastic gift. We will be writing about our experience in the near future.
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
Roses planted at the top of each row of vines at Domaine aux Moines, monitor the health of the plants. Black spot and mildew attack roses and vines alike so if either are detected on the roses vineyard owners know it is time to spray – of course only chemicals approved by the French equivalent of our Soil Association
I had tasted some wine from a neighbouring vineyard at a restaurant in Angers a day or so earlier and I was startled by its fresh taste and particularly the aroma, or nose. (I hate using the word bouquet, it seems so affected. Anyway it reminds me of Hyacinth Bucket and all that she stood for!) I was very keen to visit the area where the wine came from and jumped at the chance to taste the Domaine aux Moines wines.
We tasted white wines from Chenin grapes, from several years. Fascinatingly each one differed in flavour and nose. I found them all quite, quite delicious.
To describe wine is difficult for me as I draw back from eulogising in terms of flowers and fruit, nuts etc, but the wine I chose to take away – Cuvee des Nonnes 2007 – did remind me of the scent of Christmas pudding. If you consider the ingredients of that pudding – raisins, nuts, dried fruit, and brandy of course – you may be able to understand my description. It is a mellow wine, reminiscent of a Muscadet, with less sweetness but enough to serve as an aperitif. The Domaine aux Moines website provides food and wine recommendations, very useful indeed.
I realise now I have drunk a lot of indifferent homogenous wines over the years and am really eager to learn more about the differences and the reasons for them. I have to say I think it has a lot to do with the constituents of the soil in which the vines grow. Some years ago now I produced about 100 litres of wine for a family wedding, made from concentrated grape juice of no particular origins other than red grape, and tap water ferried over from Correze. People found it hard to believe I had made it at home in Hertfordshire – it just tasted so ‘French’.
The Domaine aux Moines website gives you a great deal more information about their wines and its production. Much of it is exported to America and Canada, but is available from Les Cave de Pyrene in Guildford UK.
I’m planning another visit to the vineyard in the not so distant future and hope to visit others using the same agriculture biologique methods in the area. We will be encouraging friends and relatives to do the same – we know they will have a great time and be made most welcome.
Val Reynolds Brown, Editor
*Located near Savenniére, Domaine aux Moines is about 8 miles west of Angers, France