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  • Christmas Wrap 1: Brown Paper Packages Wrapped up with String...

    Christmas Wrap 1: Brown Paper Packages Wrapped up with String...

    Christmas for me is wonderful - I love the tree (most of the time, one year we had a tree infested with aphids - but that is a whole other story), the decorations, the indulgent festive menus and of course the giving of gifts.

    Giving a gift is an act of love, friendship or care and I genuinely believe that the presentation of the gift is an important part of the experience. If you buy one of our gifts it will be beautifully packaged or wrapped for you but I’d like you to think about all of your gift giving this festive season and if you have the time and the inclination (because let’s be honest you need both) then we can talk through some ideas to make it your most stylish gift giving yet.

    It will come as no surprise that I’m quite particular about Christmas wrapping. Personal taste is always prevalent and there is often a loose ‘theme’. I have 2 young children so there are a lot of visible presents under the tree once it goes up so I like to co-ordinate the wrapping with the general look of the tree (not completely matchy matchy but in line).

    We will start our series of Christmas wrap blog posts with the most budget conscious of our options. Brown craft/wrapping paper and raffia ribbon. Brown paper is extremely inexpensive per metre as it usually comes in much longer roles than normal gift wrapping paper.

    Brown paper is also actually quite a fun paper to work with for Christmas. It fits the current popular Scandi aesthetic really well. It is easy to draw on so if you are even a tiny bit artistic or creative you can have a lot of fun.

    My personal favourite of the options we tried in this theme is the snowy effect of white. To recreate lightly splash white ink/paint or even tippex onto a sheet of brown paper. When we did it we used a paint pen and simply tapped the overflowing ink from the nib. Once the paint has dried then wrap the gift. To complement it and work with contrasts we used a black raffia ribbon but a red or kraft colour ribbon would also work. To decorate take a pine cone (these were ones I had found on a recent walk) and with the same white paint (in our case paint pen) colour the tips of the cone white. Use a glue gun if you have one or normal glue (pritt stick won’t work) to stick it close to the tie in the ribbon. The sprig of eucalyptus tucked under the ribbon adds a splash of colour.

    Adding decorative sprigs/pinecones/decorations to the gift work extremely well visually but aren’t always entirely practical when it comes to gifts stacked high. If you do choose this option bear that in mind and perhaps keep it on top of other gifts.

    With the other examples you can simply get to work with some repeating script or some shapes, the important thing is repetition not perfect uniformity. If your handwriting skills aren’t amazing (mine certainly aren’t brilliant…Calligraphy classes are on my Christmas list…hint, hint OH) then just stick to lines or little triangles. We used a black Sharpie but if you have a gold pen or white ink pen this would work wonderfully – not too fine a nib though or you’ll spend hours thickening the stroke to make it visible. If you have any ink stamp sets that would work then do try them out here – again repetition is key.

     

    A word on gift labels. We have used a tag maker to make these tags from a single sheet of kraft card. This is not a cheap piece of kit but it will serve you well for many years.  The very simple alternative is t just cut out rectangular or other shapes from a piece of co-ordinating card and decorate accordingly.

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  • The Art of the G&T

    The Art of the G&T

    In conjunction with the launch of our new 'Gin Appreciation' gifts I thought I would share a few words on our quest for the perfect G&T.

    In my twenties I shied away from gin as I thought it made me a little too 'fiesty' but after having children and becoming 'intolerant' to wine (well the sulfites) a G&T became the tipple of choice (without the accompanying attitude shift... I hope!).

    With the introduction of premium tonic brands like Fever-Tree and an explosion in craft gins the G&T has never been so popular. Dedicated Gin bars are popping up all over the country and how we serve it has moved on dramatically. This isn't just a gimmick - there is sound logic behind why good gin bars now serve a G&T in oversized balloon glasses with masses of ice and a variety of botanical garnishes. 

    The 6 Steps to the perfect G&T

    1. The Glass. Start with a very large balloon style glass with a stem (Copa glass) as the goal of a good G&T is to serve it really cold but not at all watered down. You need a glass that will not be heated up by your hand holding it - hence the Copa glass; hold the glass by the stem when you drink or use a straw.
    2. Ice. The best friend yet also the nemesis of the perfect G&T. It is absolutely necessary to get the drink nice and cold but you need to avoid the watering down which will kill the bubbles in the tonic. Large ice cubes will hold their temperature for longer without diluting the drink so use the largest ice cubes you can find (we actually bought new ice cube trays just for this reason) - never crushed ice.
    3. Citrus. Similarly be careful with the citrus. For a long time I would squeeze lemon or lime juice into the drink but since starting our research into the perfect G&T discovered that the strong acidic flavours can mask or impair the subtle nature of some of the more refined gins. The acidic juice will also break the bubble of the tonic water making it flat before its time. When using citrus stick to the rind, a sliver of rind twisted to release some of the oils is how the specialists use it (when they do use it - more of that next).
    4. Botanicals. By this we mean the seeds, skins, berries and flowers that are used to give gin it's distinctive taste. The main botanical in gin making is Juniper but every gin has a different botanical profile. When making G&Ts at home it is worth spending a few moments researching your favourite gin as a garnish should complement the gin rather than fight against it. The book 'Gins, Tonics and Garnishes' by Gin Foundry is a great place to start. 
    5. Gin. Now, and only now do you add your favourite gin. Sidenote: we had deliberated about putting gin in one of our gift boxes but discovered that many gin lovers had a favourite brand and were particularly loyal to it. We decided instead to create a gift that would appeal to all gin lovers. So if you have a favourite gin - great, but we would encourage you to try out some of the craft gins (ginfoundry.com is a great source for emerging and established craft gins). The ideal ratio is 1 part gin to 2 parts tonic but this does depend on personal preference. Try this ratio and tweak it to your taste.
    6. Tonic. Choosing a tonic is much like gin, down to personal taste. The important thing to note with tonic is you shouldn't just splash the tonic into the glass if you can help it. Pouring the tonic slowly down a swizzle spoon (provided in our Grande box) is a way of avoiding the bubbles exploding suddenly - this way they don't lose their CO2 therefore making the drink more effervescent. Finally a few light stirs with the spoon (again minimising bubble breakage) and you have a perfect G&T.

    If you want a non-alcoholic version Seedlip make an amazing spirit which is a real contender to their alcoholic counterparts. 

    Hope you have found this interesting reading - a slightly different version of this is included in both of our 'Gin Appreciation' gifts making it a perfect gift for any gin enthusiast this Christmas. 

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  • Eating the Seasons, Autumn

    Eating the Seasons, Autumn

    Eating the Seasons, Autumn

    Guest Post: Blo Deady, Private Chef

    For me, late Summer going into early Autumn is the best time of the year to cook and with good reason. We still have the soft summer fruits, tomatoes and summer vegetables and begin to see the first of the autumn squash, game and my favourite of all, wild mushrooms. 

    Few wild mushrooms excite a cook more than porcini, or ceps as they are called in France. Intense, earthy, extraordinary looking and incredibly versatile, they will be expensive at the beginning of the season (normally the beginning of September) but the price drops as the elusive Bolitus Edulis become more plentiful - this is usually after a little rain. 

    If you are fortunate enough to have a farmers market or good quality greengrocer nearby and they don’t have any in stock they should be able to order some in for you. Otherwise they are available online – just remember fresh porcini are the star of the show here, dried as great as they are, will not work in these recipes.  

    When buying porcini look for a firm stalk and a slightly sticky cap. Check the bottom - if there are lots of tiny holes they will, most certainly, contain little worms. Disregard any that feel too heavy for their size or are wet or spongy.

    To clean them do not immerse in water. Instead cut a disk off the very bottom and use a wet paper towel to clean the cap. I keep a toothbrush to clean off any stubborn grit. 

    Below are a few my favourite ways to eat fresh porcini. Buon Appetito! 

    Pappardelle ai Funghi Porcini 
    Serves 4  Ingredients 
    Porcini Pasta
    • 350g dried pappardelle 
    • 1 banana shallot, very finely chopped 
    • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 
    • 1 tablespoon Thyme (leaves only )
    • 500g fresh porcini, cleaned and roughly chopped 
    • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter 
    • 200ml double cream 
    • grated parmesan, to serve 
    • salt and pepper
    • splash of dry white wine 
     Method 
    1. Cook the garlic, shallots and thyme in a frying pan on a very low heat with the butter and a splash of olive oil until soft but not coloured
    2. Add the chopped porcini, and continue to cook until the mushrooms are golden brown 
    3. Add the wine, increase the temperature a little until most of the liquid has evaporated, add the cream, season with salt and pepper and turn the heat off
    4. Cook the pasta according to the makers instructions, drain but hold back about half a cup of the cooking water 
    5. Add the pasta to the pan with the mushroom mixture, stir to coat the pasta, adding a little of the pasta cooking water if too dry. 
    6. Serve in pasta bowls with plenty of grated Parmsean    

     

    Salad of Raw Porcini, Parmesan and Walnuts 
     

    Serves 4

    Ingredients 
    • 4 medium sized porcini, cleaned (as above) and sliced thinly keeping intact as much as possible 
    • handful shaved parmesan
    • handful toasted walnuts 
    • rind and zest of half an unwaxed lemon 
    • generous glug of very good quality olive oil 
    • salt and pepper
    • tablespoon roughly chopped parsley 
    Method
    1. In a large bowl, place the oil, lemon zest and rind, salt and pepper and mix until thoroughly combined 
    2. Add the porcini, parmesan, parsley, walnuts and mix through the dressing, being careful not to break up the porcini 
    3. Serve on a flat platter and offer chunks of good bread 
    Blo Deady, Private Chef

    www.blodeady.co.uk 

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