It’s that stage in the holidays where the kids start moping around, complaining that they’re bored, and parents are running short of ideas.
Well, this book might help. Mason Jar Nation, whilst not purely food or drink idea based, could provide a few hours entertainment for the kids. It could end up producing something for dinner, or something to carry to a picnic, or some other craft projects, although these are probably more suitable for older kids.
And much older if it’s the Pineapple Vodka!
Of course it’s all been about the Mason jar, which you may or may not have hanging around the house. Personally I think the trend has probably reached a peak, and you could do many of these with any fairly robust glass jar you have hanging around the house.
I mean, if you’re going to try making homemade butter with them (which would be great fun) then then the butter isn’t going to know it’s being churned in a Mason jar or a leftover jam jar, just as long as the lid is tight fitting.
Perched on a hillside (count the hairpin bends getting up there, all five of them!) it’s idyllic, peaceful (if you ignore the cicadas) and surrounded by olive trees. And it has a kitchen that I could happily live in, and a huge marble table that any would be chocolatier in particular would have huge envy of.
The 6 nights there give you a good combination of cooking lessons, and trips out around the local area. Let’s face it, it was nearly 30°C most days at midday, and not many of us amateurs would choose to be cooking in that heat, so lessons were at 5pm, ready for that evening’s meal.
The three lessons focused on a northern dinner, a southern vegetarian dinner and a Tuscan dinner, so reflecting three diverse styles out of the many that actually make up “Italian” cooking. As Manul says, these are family dishes, not restaurant dishes and actually, for me, that makes them much more useful. We’ve already cooked some of them again since our return home.
The style is very relaxed, there were three of us staying, with a maximum of six, which the kitchen can comfortably accomodate. It doesn’t need any particular level of skill, just enthusiasm, the ability to follow instructions, and to just enjoy. The wine usually came out at some point in the process and there was lots of laughter.
And then there were the dishes. We can’t really decide which we liked the most, but we’ve already cooked the pork loin in vin santo again along with the white cabbage and dried fruit salad.
Tomorrow will see us revisit the cannelloni with aubergine rolls (and I didn’t think I liked aubergine before this trip), and probably the chocolate chip cantuccini as well.
We enjoyed all the meals, particularly when it was cool enough to eat outside (though take industrial strength mosquito repellent, they’re real biters up there) and I loved how many different salads we did.
The rooms are comfortable, though don’t come expecting 5 star facilities (this is not the trip for you if that’s what you need). Plenty of space, beautiful views, though we were so busy that we didn’t see much of the rooms. There’s also a gorgeous saltwater pool, perfect around 6pm if you’re not cooking for a pre-dinner dip.
I’ll write separately about some of the trips we did from here, as we loved many of those adventures too. I would highly recommend this trip if you are looking for a holiday that’s a good mix of activities and sightseeing, busy times and some down time, great food and meeting new people. I’d love to go in October/November when you can get involved in the olive harvest and all the steps involved with the oil extraction.
If you’re a last minute kind of person, I believe they do have some availability in August and September, so get in touch with them now. Your tastebuds will thank you!
MGG and I have just been in Tuscany for just over a week, and whilst there are many things that I’ll write about in more detail, I thought you might like a taster of 12 things we learnt (and would happily learn again, given most of them are food and drink related). Here goes:
Cappucinos only come in one size: perfectly sized. No buckets here. And don’t order it after about 11am. Yes, it really is not the thing.
2. Italian pastries are delicious. From freshly filled cannoli to mini sfogliatella, we loved them. We couldn’t pronounce some of them properly, but we got there.
3. Antipasto was our favourite way to start a meal. Meats, cheeses drizzled with honey and a selection of bruschetta were almost a meal in themselves, and truly delicious way to start a good evening.
4. Learning to cook food from a variety of Italian regions at Tasty Tuscany was an excellent way to spend 6 nights of anyone’s holiday. So many wonderful dishes and techniques, definitely highly recommended by us.
5. There’s more to Italian wine than Chianti. The one on the left was my favourite, but as it’s about £30 a bottle here then I’ll be saving it for great days.
6. Sometimes, it’s worth following the queue. This is Pizza Da Felice in Lucca. Always queues out the door, but darn tasty pizza by the slice.
7. We discovered pizza isn’t always round, harking back to its starting point and buying what you could afford by the slice.
8. Salad can be the most colourful thing on the menu. And regularly was, with a whole load of different flavours. This one was carrot, beetroot and apple.
9. The Italians like their coffee art colourful and full on. Not just swirls in the milk for them. Or maybe just this one place in Certaldo.
10. Florence Central Food Market was probably our favourite sight in the city. Let’s face it, it was 30° outside, and crowded. And the food was better in their food court than most other places around. We had 3 meals here.
11. Our favourite hotel of the trip had the most incredible breakfast spread. Given this was just one of the tables, and there are only five (wonderful) rooms, then Relais San Lorenzo in Lucca gets a huge thumbs up from us.
12. The Spritz is my favourite apertif. Keeping this one going, Aperol on its way to the house shortly (Ocado have a third off currently).
Given that I’ve been through a few life experiences since the last wedding I went to (and it’s usually best not to mention that at a wedding) I wondered if I’d feel differently about advice I’d given. Well, here goes!
Buy off the list. Unless the list is dull.
Now, generally I still think if the couple have gone to the trouble of putting together a wedding list, then generally it’s better to stick to their list. Unless you’ve not been organised and got to it too late to find anything either in your budget, or interesting to give. And therefore I would stick with the original plan.
I found myself in this situation once, and it’s why I ended up breaking that rule, and went off list, and adopted an olive tree for them with Nudo. Was still a better bet than the two flannels that fell in my budget.
Do something for their honeymoon
Yes, this could still be a great idea, if the destination is not secret, as it’s easier than ever to find foodie tours or cooking classes most places in the world with a click of the mouse. Just maybe check in that it’s not the kind of honeymoon with an hour by hour itinerary.
A hamper for their return
Let’s face it, coming back from any holiday is depressing, so a honeymoon must be doubly so. A hamper of gorgeous goodies, preferably things that would make a good carpet picnic, is still an idea that I think could go down well.
Checking other wishlists
If the first bit of advice is holding true, and the official wedding list is not inspiring you, then checking whether they have things like an Amazon wishlist for some alternatives, particularly in the cookbook or kit area, might be a great idea for something more interesting than towels. It might be more things they really want, than things they think they ought to have, which I do think sometimes happens with wedding lists.
Book a date night for the future
Originally my advice was about trying to book them a table at their must do restaurant for post honeymoon. But perhaps on reflection it could also be about buying something they can go off and do together? A wine tasting or a cookery class perhaps? You could try local to the bride and groom businesses, or try somewhere like Red Letter Days for a great selection nationwide.
To be fair, none of this has held up for the weddings I’m attending. One asked for travel vouchers, another for donations to a hot tub fund. Let’s face it, most of us have all the china we need, so why not? Or maybe even we need nothing at all, and donations to good causes seems to be on the rise as well.
I keep hoping for those blissful summer evenings when you can sit outside, with a glass of something cold whilst you enjoy the last of the sun’s warmth and the smell of summer on the evening breeze.
Of course this year it’s been more likely to be a cup of tea indoors listening to the sound of the rain hammering on the conservatory roof. Which is why we need to bring our sense of smell into play, and bring on some great summer scents around the house. And this is perfect for food lovers as there are so many wonderful food based ones around at the moment.
Now, this next combination is unusual, but if I think of gardens and greenhouses of my childhood, then maybe it’s not so odd. Tomato and blackcurrant could be lovely, if it’s based on the scent of the sunshine on the leaves of the two plants. The fruits mushed together…maybe not. Good choice for a slightly more adventurous or back to nature food lover.
For a tropical summer scent, then Pink Papaya from the Mayfair Candle Company might do the trick. Papaya meets melon, mandarin and coconut, sounding like the perfect starter to a summer cocktail, just waiting for some rum. The candle is lower calorie.
I love a cup of Earl Grey tea on a summer’s afternoon (raining or not). This Earl Grey candle by Orla Kiely would make a stylish gift, and the bright bergamot scent blended with black tea will be like a cuppa: instantly refreshing.
Mint is definitely a summer scent to me, whether it’s brushing past the herb growing in my garden, and the sprig that goes into the Pimms. The Wild Mint candle from The White Company is simple and lovely in design, and with that perfect summer scent. I’d find this one hard to give away.
So, some great choices for food lovers, with the benefit of delicious food scents but with no calories involved.
I love the Japan Centre, it’s always been a fascinating place to stop into on a trip to London, and it’s been brilliant to watch their web presence expand.
I see they’ve now got into the recipe box business, and just thought how great this would be as a treat for a real Japanese food, or culture, lover. It could be for a night in for two of you, or there’s a family box for bigger gatherings, and there’s a vegetarian option.
The classic box is described as a perfect mix of modern and traditional Japanese cooking, with ingredients for one meal, and they all seem to do that really well. There are recipes for Yaki Udon Stir Fried Noodles, Oyako Donburi Chicken & Egg on Rice and one of our favourites, Vegetable Katsu Curry and Rice.
Whilst this is a subscription service, you can cancel at any time up until the next payment is due, so really can be used in an one off way. Orders have to be in by 11.59pm on a Thursday for delivery the following week.
I think we’re going to give this a go, I know MGG would love this given her love of cooking and all things Japanese at the moment, and it wouldn’t mean committing to a whole load of new ingredients upfront.
It’s 286 years today since the birth of Josiah Wedgwood, and all credit that the brand that bears his name is still going strong. That said, I don’t think he’d recognise the designs now, they’re certainly different to the blue and white traditional image we might have of Wedgwood.
I mean, the Green Chinoiserie by Jasper Conran for Wedgwood looks like something modern and vibrant, and yet has elements of classical design to it. The one thing Josiah was great at was understanding trends and what people wanted, so working with a taste maker like Jasper might well have met with his approval.
Or the sheer exhuberance of the completely aptly named Vibrance? Rich, sumptuous, indulgent…all things he wanted for his original wealthy clients. Whilst he is credited with the industrialisation of the manufacture of pottery, he wasn’t in the cheap end of the market, far from it.
But Wedgwood was also riding the wave of a new enthusiasm for classical design. Intaglio would seem to be doing that in my book, beautiful white pottery but with superb detailing for interest.
Wedgwood isn’t really a brand I think about very often, as I’ve not thought it was my style for quite a long time. I can see now though that this brand has kept moving forward, and actually is more appealing than I might have thought. I think Josiah’s legacy is safe for quite a bit longer yet.
What do you think? Were you ahead of me on this one? Or still thinking of blue and white trinket boxes?
Just in time for Bastille Day, I thought I’d share some photos from the two nights I had in Paris recently with the day job. Which is no bad thing, when in between the work stuff you can stumble across all kinds of great stuff en route to the next work thing.
So, just a few snaps to remind you why any time spent in Paris is a treat for a food lover. I mean, this was the local bakery just along the street from my friend’s apartment:
Fab chocolate displays for Father’s Day, which could have been very tempting.
I stopped in this store because their air conditioning was great (it was a fabulously warm day, about two days after they were moving paintings out the basement of the Louvre). They also had some great food based gifts.
And then back to the bakers, to discover why Parisians don’t bake. I mean, why would you when this was on the doorstep?
And that was about all I had time to fit in. Well, that and drinking champagne in the Tuileries Gardens until late with good friends. Which is probably the best thing to do during any trip to Paris.