Friday, December 26, 2008

It's official...

Dear reader, I confess that last night I fell in love... with a dog! Darling Gromit! How adorable is he! The strong and silent type, a dog of action and good deed. Are you familiar with him? Did you see the fabulous Wallace and Gromit:a Matter of Loaf and Death on BBC1? (In case you didn't, I highly recommend you catch-up with it on the iPlayer).

Nick Park, his creator, is a genius and well-deserved of the top industry awards he has been repeatedly nominated for and endowed with. Last night's half-hour story was clever, fast-paced, intriguing and highly entertaining (brilliantly voiced by Peter Sallis and Sally Lindsay). A definite Christmas highlight, not to be missed...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Season's Greetings

Happy December 25th to you all, wherever and however you may be celebrating!
Have a peaceful, relaxing day filled with contentment...

Pic shows Umbrian rooftops at dusk in December

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Beluga alla Milanese

If the credit crunch is a concern(hmmm!) perhaps you (we) should consider moving to Milan... At least, if you fancy a festive gift of caviar, courtesy of your local council. Poorer members of Milanese society are about to be treated to a jar of the black stuff to enrich their seasonal menu. Along with lentils and pasta - a curious threesome...

40,000€ worth of illegally imported Beluga were seized in the Italian capital recently, so instead of destroying them, authorities decided that less privileged locals deserved a treat. So it seems Bruschette Milanese will feature caviar rather than tomatoes; an élite appetiser to the lentils and pasta that will follow. Imagine that happening in our capital, given a similar set of circumstances... Penso che non! Buon appetito festivo!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Frankincense & Myrrh

One of my preferred ways to celebrate the season is with the Kings of Orient... I'm a huge fan of essential oils and one of my favourites is frankincense (also known as olibanum). Open-up a small dropper bottle and you'll be instantly transported to calmer times. Indeed, that's one of the beneficial properties of the gum-resin oil - it is truly grounding and calming. If you want to infuse some of those qualities into your ambience, you can make your own room spray. (Use a pretty glass bottle or add a decorative label to a plain one if you want to offer it as gift...)

To prepare:
Boil some water, allow to cool (or use bottled or distilled)
Pour into a sterilised (clean!) spray bottle
Add 2 teaspoons of vodka (optional but it acts as a preservative and emulsifier)
Add approximately 20 drops (total) of essential oil (per 100ml spray bottle)
Frankincense works beautifully in combination with your choice from the following essential oils: lavender, sandalwood, black pepper and cinnamon.

Don't just use your essential oil for room fragrance, it also has favourable skin-care properties, for both mature skin and blemishes. You can buy ready prepared frankincense beauty products, or simply tailor-make your own, by adding just one drop of the essential oil to your moisturiser. Simply add to your daily 'dose' of chosen cream (or fluid) in the palm of your hand, blend with the middle finger of the other hand, massage into your face, inhale and enjoy the benefits.

Myrrh is also a gum-resin oil (although with a stickier consistency than frankincense). You might recollect hearing that the Egyptians used it for preserving (embalming) mummies in their pyramid tombs - I'm not suggesting you go that far(!) but one of its starring rôles, in the bathroom cabinet, is for healing mouth ulcers. Worth keeping on-hand (or stored away) for that purpose. The next time you're in the unfortunate situation of needing some help in that area, gently apply just one drop, using the tip of a cotton bud. You'll find it works better and faster than any over-the-counter remedy.

Disclaimer: Essential oils are powerfully concentrated. Care needs to be taken using them. My tips here work well for me but are for adults only. Use common sense and enjoy at your own risk! I also recommend using oils from a trusted, quality source such as Neals Yard Remedies or Eve Taylor.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Kate does Christmas (at BHS)

The front page of tonight's Evening Standard entertained me, earlier. Icon of all that is glam and aspirational, the lovely Kate Moss, was spotted shopping (by the trolley-full). Where, might you ask, was the tantalising site of her spending spree? None other than the half-price gift shelves at BHS!

Was it a PR exercise on behalf of her Topshop chum Sir Philip Green, or a genuine shopping jaunt? I know not... but what really amused me was the sneery look of superiority (or was that boredom) written all over her face. I wonder which of her lucky friends will be the contented recipients of her generosity and good taste? Happy Christmas, Kate!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cocktails - at last!

If you're tempted to celebrate the season in a less traditional way, I can recommend recreating one (or both) of the wonderful Whitley Neill concoctions, from The Lobby Bar at One Aldwych.

Bar star, Roberto de Vivo, takes the inspiration for his Lost Cherry from fellow Italian, Alessandro Parllazzi, at Dukes Hotel.
To prepare this fragrant 'dirty' Martini, you'll need:
40ml of Whitley Neill
15ml Noilly Prat vermouth
10ml Rose liqueur
15ml Maraschino infused with fresh cherries

Pour all the ingredients into a shaker, shake enthusiastically; double strain. Garnish with a large maraschino cherry (which will sink appropriately to the bottom of the glass).

Roberto uses La Poutroie rose liqueur but it may not be so easy to track down (although Gerry's in Soho is worth searching). I've located a delicious-sounding example by Briottet, at £13.99. Although, I haven't tasted the Briottet exponent, personally, I'm sure it would be a brilliantly unusual adjunct to the cocktail enthusiast's repertoire and also fab poured over a good vanilla ice-cream...

Caroline Weise's deeply spicy Africa is richly warming and perfectly seasonal. You'll need:
1 star anis
15ml lime juice
50ml Whitley Neill Gin
25ml Amaretto
15ml sugar syrup
a cinnamon stick

Prepare by 'muddling' the star anis with the sugar syrup and lime juice; add the other ingredients. Shake and double strain. Garnish with a 'curl' of orange peel and a cinnamon stick.

If you can't find star anise in the herb & spice section of your local supermarket, you'll be able to buy it (loose, by weight) from your nearest branch of Neals Yard Remedies.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Epitaph for Woolies

Most of us hold fond memories of childhood visits to our local Woolworths for our weekly sweet treats. Alas, poor Woolies we knew you well and then you fell out of favour...What was your pick 'n' mix gem?

Has it featured as regularly on your agenda as a grown-up? I can't say it was close to the top of my essentials list; most recently (a few months ago) I bought some cute and colourful, practical, little storage containers but it still seems a little sad for a familiar high street stalwart to fall out of favour and disappear from the horizon. Ironic too, that once the demise was officially confirmed, the following day's closing-down event should see the stores overflowing with keen customers and the best trading day in their long history.

I ventured into my local branch, yesterday, partly out of curiosity, partly to bid farewell... It was far from a pleasurable experience - one could barely move for the enthusiastic bargain-hunting crowds. The shelves (unsurprisingly) were poorly stocked and appallingly displayed (bizarrely the china and crockery stock was all coffee-splattered!). However, after making the effort to go in, I had to do my bit and make one last purchase, so I came away with a prettily practical stationery storage folder. Reductions were nothing to write home about (mostly 10-20%) with little to tantalise or tempt... Adieu, sweet memories!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Out of Africa (aka Gin-novations)

What's your tipple of choice? If you rarely stray far from your familiar glass filler, there's a worthy cause that might nudge you into a detour, out of your comfort zone. The spirit of adventure took me, a couple of nights ago, when I went out to explore the new world of gin with a merry band of celebrated bloggers.

Whitley Neill is an award-winning boutique gin - voted drink brand of 2008 by UK Vogue. It's a spirit with a warm heart - authentic - but with a sun-infused difference. Influenced by his wife's African roots, creator Johnny Neill was inspired to add a touch of the exotic. The signature botanical is the fruit of the versatile Baobab tree. A percentage of each bottle sale is donated to Tree Aid (a charity born out of Live Aid, whose brilliantly practical purpose is to empower indigenous African people - young and old - to find happy long-term solutions to drought-induced crop depletion).

Last summer, Johnny pursued the theme, launching the Top of the Tree Cocktail Challenge. The competition encouraged creative bar professionals to produce the ultimate Whitley Neill concoction, encompassing at least one tree-based ingredient (with a donation made to Tree Aid for each example sold). So, we festive bloggers (Timinator, Tikichris, Foodstories, Chris, Lizzie, Niamh, Melanie, and I) merrily sipped and savoured our way through an élite selection, as we gin-cruised (relatively soberly) through four venues.

The Lobby Bar, at One Aldwych, prepared my two tree-topping stars of the night. Carolin Weise's Africa is perfectly seasonally apt, suffused with warm spicy flavours. Bar Manager, Roberto de Vivo's cheekily titled Lost Cherry is a female take on the Martini - ideal for injecting a sunny influence into long dark winter's nights - redolent with fragrant summer elements of cherry and rose. The recipes will follow shortly...