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My cookbook challenge

September 2nd, 2014 · Cookbooks, Foodie gifts

And no, the challenge is not to not buy any more, but it is to make more of the ones I’ve got. And probably I should add to it not get any more but that’s not the main purpose!


The shelf of most used books


I do have a lot of cookbooks, and that’s after a major clear out. It’s not deliberate, but I still have over 50 books on the shelves. So my plan is to cook a recipe from one each week. My only rules for myself are that it can’t be something that I’ve cooked before, as for a big chunk of the books on the shelves then I have cooked something from them. I just don’t think I’ve done enough.


The ones from the side of the bed


And yes, there are still a few on there that I’ve not cooked from at all. There’s plenty of variety up on these shelves, including Christmas and Halloween ones, so should be able to cover any eventuality.


The bottom shelf in the utility


I’m starting this week with The Trifle Bowl and Other Tales by Lindsay Bareham. I really like Lindsay’s writing style, and the idea behind this book of all the different cooking pots and utensils. I’ve made the classic fish pie with parsley sauce and I think that’s it. I’m going to make the Sri Lankan Ginger & Lime Chicken Curry, as MGG has also challenged me to come up with the best chicken curry that she will love. Which means flavour not spice.


The other utility room shelf


I’m quite looking forward to it, if only because it will mean getting books back down the shelf and having a read of them to find a recipe to try. And I’m looking forward to trying some new stuff, and challenging myself should be fun. Maybe I’ll end up with a new favourite cookbook, or maybe I’ll end up with some empty space on the shelves.

Where should I go after The Trifle Bowl? Open to suggestions!


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Our Edinburgh food fun & finds

August 31st, 2014 · Foodie gifts, Foodie things to do, Foodie Travel, Places to eat

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll probably know that MGG and I have been in Edinburgh, enjoying lots of Fringe shows, a night at the Tattoo and some great food in great places. These were some of our favourites:


Exploring Stockbridge


Stockbridge Farmers’ Market – I have Lea Harris to thank for this one, as she suggested we went on the Sunday when we had no shows planned. We had gyoza for breakfast from Harajuku Kitchen, great coffee from Steampunk Coffee, and smoked salmon from Dunkeld. Not a bad start to the morning.






Peter’s Yard Cafe – I’ve written before about how much I like Peter’s Yard crispbreads. Well, now we can add that we love their cafe too. So much, we went twice. I loved my sweet potato hummus with roasted peppers on walnut bread the first time, and a cardamom bun and good coffee the next time. I’d move to Edinburgh just for this being my local caff!


Starting our walking tour


Eat Walk Edinburgh – we did a great walking tour, combining food tastings and a bit of a history lesson of the lower part of the Royal Mile. MGG tried haggis for the first time, and liked it. I had Edinburgh Gin, but I knew already I liked that. We stopped in at Cranachan & Crowdie, which I thought was a great store. We came back to buy the venison chorizo that had been in the tasting, and added a few more things too. Very tempting store!


Beetroot Bacon & Blue Cheese


Tin Tin in a Tea Pot


The Crafter’s Barn – we had a late but relaxed lunch here, as we were both a bit footsore and a bit tired from dashing between shows. We were both well revived by the beetroot, bacon and blue cheese pizza (now added to our Friday night make at home pizza repertoire). I was well revived by my first ever beer cocktail, a Tin Tin. Which also had more Edinburgh Gin in it. And arrived in a teapot. Which you drank it from. Looked dodgy, tasted great!

One final one that I don’t have any photos from but definitely deserves a mention is Social Bite on Rose Street. If I lived in Edinburgh I would have to split my coffee time between Peter’s Yard and here, because this is social enterprise at its best and serves darn good coffee, not to mention great porridge. Go, buy your breakfast, buy your lunch, and suspend a purchase or two for someone else.

We loved our time in Edinburgh, and certainly ate really well, with great variety. I’d go back tomorrow, but think my waistline and bank account need a few weeks off first!


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The Friday Five – pack some excitement into packed lunches

August 29th, 2014 · Cookbooks, Foodie gifts, Friday Five

So the countdown is really on for all schools to be back (apologies to Scottish readers, I know, your kids have been back for weeks already). This week I’ve featured lunch boxes already, but you’re going to need good stuff to go inside them. It’s really easy to fall into a rut with packed lunches, which, like most things, is when they get dull and unappealing.

The ideas in these books are definitely neither of those!


Yum Yum Bento Box

Yum Yum Bento Box – let’s face it, the Japanese are masters at this, and I’ve loved my trips to Asia where I’ve come across all kinds of gadgets to make these kind of lunches. I’m not suggesting that many of us have time to do these every day, but they’re certainly fun, and would cause plenty of conversation at lunch. I’m quite fancying rice chickens for Monday though!


Homemade Kids Lunches


The Best Homemade Kids’ Lunches on the Planet – well, it’s quite a title to live up to! Plenty of suggestions, and even ideas if your kid needs gluten, soy or nut free. But with 200 recipes that should see you through the next school year!


Funky lunch

Funky Lunch – this is probably a more British version of the bento ideas, as it’s more based on having fun with sandwiches than messing around with rice. I could see this being more accessible to most of us on a more regular basis (I mean am I the only one who made houses from luncheon meat as a kid? Surely not?). Who doesn’t want a smiling giraffe sandwich in their lunchbox?


Mason Jar Salads


Mason Jar Salads and More – I think it’s optional for it to be a Mason jar, and possibly not a good idea for young kids, but if it’s more about your lunch then this has some really appealing ideas for something a bit more interesting. Let’s face it, a damp lettuce leaf isn’t interesting at home, it’s certainly not going to be after hanging around your lunchbox for a few hours.


Just Bento Cookbook


The Just Bento Cookbook – this is bento for grown ups, and is more about healthy combinations than cute rice concoctions. This is definitely about making stuff that’s “healthy” interesting and flavoursome, and then presenting it in ways that look enticing, without too much faff!


So, let’s make this term about something more than a cheese and pickle sandwich and a packet of crisps! If you’ve got a new lunchbox it deserves better!




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Back to school time – lunch boxes for everyone

August 27th, 2014 · Foodie gadgets, Foodie gifts, Foodie things to do, Kitchenwares

I’m sure debates will rage again about school meals versus packed lunches as the school year restarts. If they’re good, then personally I think they’re worth having. In our house, MGG has school lunches, and I try to take my own lunch as often as possible, so we have a variety of lunch boxes going on!

My favourite, particularly if I’m making some form of salad is the Smash Nude Food Movers Meal Box. I love that it has its own little pot for dressing, although the built in fork is not that useful. It has a vent in for using it in the microwave, but I have to admit I’ve never used mine in the microwave.


smash food movers


I also really like the Sistema Breakfast to Go Container. I have used it for breakfast, or maybe to carry fruit and yogurt, or you could even have things like rice in the base and a curry in the top and reheat it.


Sistema Breakfast to go


If I was thinking of a new lunchbox for my own “back to school” then I am quite keen on the Black+Blum Box Appetit, with its own carrying bag which converts into a mat. Given that lunch is eaten at my desk 90% of the time, then I think this is a great idea, not to mention it’s all very neat and tidy. Again, this has an inbuilt sauce pot, which I love, not to mention a sauce dipping area. Perfect.


Black+Blum Box


I think like anything, lack of variety can be what gives packed lunches a bad name, so having a lunch box that means you can fit in more than just a round of sandwiches has to be a good thing. This kit not only has a bag and an ice pack, but sizes of box that allow for a variety of things to be packed up. There’s lots of good things on the Becky & Lolo site, worth a look.


lunch box kit


So, get ready, the morning ritual is about to return! Organisation, and inspiration, seem to make it a lot easier to cope with.

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Back to school time – water bottle stock up time

August 25th, 2014 · Foodie gadgets, Foodie gifts

Hard to believe the school holidays are nearly over. I know that most of the shops have been running back to school since almost the day they broke up, but probably like most parents I’m only just getting round to it.

Water bottles figure in both MGG and I’s daily routines. She is very keen on her Bobble, and is getting ready to test a new one that the team there have sent us. She loves the colours, and I love that she refills them during the day, never complaining about the taste of the school water.


Bobbles ready to go


The only drawback I see with Bobbles is that most of them are not dishwasher proof, although I understand the newer sports ones are. Although they’re not quite as attractive, so I guess you pay your money and takes your choice.

Mine is a little more sedate, an Aladdin although brighter than this version. It’s renowned for having other stuff in it, as I normally add lime or cucumber or mint, or a mix of all three. Which does lead some around the office to question exactly what’s in there!


Aladdin Water Bottle


As more schools catch on to how important good hydration is to concentration then I guess more and more of us will be packing kids off with water. Let’s just make sure it’s a refillable bottle every day, and not getting a plastic bottle every day. I get so cross at myself when I forget to take my water bottle, the world really doesn’t need more plastic bottles of water.

Besides which, it’s much more difficult to get your lime and cucumber in a bottle of Evian!

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Waiting for the Doctor. Again.

August 23rd, 2014 · Foodie gifts

I must have done something right bringing up MGG, as the return of Doctor Who is as much an appointment to view with her as it is with me. As I’ve said before, Ten is my doctor, but am very excited to see Peter Capaldi take on the role.

Now, I could bake the Dalek sponge again, but as it’s probably just the two of us that seems a bit overkill. Put it this way, it’s a sponge recipe with 8 eggs in it!


Dalek Cake Mould


Lakeland did have a good range of things, but I really love the many options on cookie cutters from WarpZone Prints, which are probably my favourite use of 3D printers I’ve seen to date. There’s a 12th Doctor cutter (to be fair, there are all the others if you’re really keen), or a good set that includes the Tardis, a Dalek, a Weeping Angel, a Cyberman and a Sontaran, although substitutions are possible.


All 12 Doctors


To be honest, I wouldn’t know what to choose, as there are companion cutters, there’s K-9…though no Captain Jack. Or Mickey. Which would be right. Possible best to order a few as shipping is $8.95.

You might need a cuppa to dunk your cookie in to, and this one would seem appropriate at this point in time.


Fan mug


That said, the purists might be upset at the missing out of Hurt.

And I guess a Tardis teapot could be perfect. Because if it’s bigger on the inside then surely that must mean never running out of tea again!


Tardis Teapot


But I think even I would draw the line at drinking tea out of David Tennant’s head. That’s just plain weird!


Tenth Doctor


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What does an Edinburgh Fringe show have in common with a small food producer?

August 21st, 2014 · Foodie gifts, Foodie things to do

Enter the mayhem of the Fringe


You might think the answer to the question is “not much”, and I might have done too, apart from the insight from eavesdropping on a phone conversation! Well, not so much eavesdropping, this is an actor we are talking about, so each word beautifully enunciated from the table behind us.

This actor was from a two man show we’d seen earlier in the week, and from the biog this man has a “proper” job but is obviously looking to see if this might go full time. His comments to a mate back home made me laugh and reflect that plus ça change…well, see what you think!

Word of mouth hadn’t taken off – well, you know what? Sometimes it doesn’t. And quite often certainly not in two weeks, even at the biggest arts festival in the UK. I know when I’ve chatted to some producers at different shows it’s a bit the same, that there’s been no big order. Well, sometimes you have to do the graft. Which brings me to the next point.

It’s all down to the work we put in – when isn’t it? Even getting a lucky break is usually backed up by a lot of slog. Right time, right place maybe, but you have to have the right product, which probably means you’ve honed the product and its presentation over time.

It’s really tiring – when isn’t it? I am sure pitching their show every day to punters looking for tickets is knackering, but if they hadn’t done it we wouldn’t have gone to see the show, as it wasn’t on our radar. We’re not looking for you, whether you’re a show or a new food. You have to find us.


So much choice...


We’re living in a caravan – sometimes the Ritz (or, in Edinburgh’s case, perhaps the G&V) just has to wait. I can’t think of many food producers I know who are living it up in top hotels when they are out doing shows. It’s about where you put the investment, what’s really important to you.

There’s an agent coming tomorrow – maybe it’s a buyer from a big chain, maybe they’ll turn up, maybe they’ll order. Whatever, your product needs to be great every day, not just tomorrow. Because who says the big chain is the best thing? Who says that someone you have a conversation with today couldn’t just bring something really important to your business. Which brings me to the next point.

We have met some interesting people – a little more positive. Networking, sharing experience and skills, all of that can help build the business just as effectively, if not more sustainably, than one big break.

We’ve sold 85% of our tickets – I don’t know how you make money at Edinburgh, I can imagine it’s not a moneyspinner, in the same way I can see most of the big food shows may not be. There’s a lot of expense, but it’s about the exposure. And the networking. And maybe the lucky break. But 85% would seem like quite a good result to me, compared to a couple of shows we saw. Even Michael McIntyre had to begin somewhere, and that beginning is unlikely to be selling out Wembley. Likewise with food, you might start out at the East Midlands Food Festival, but you have to start somewhere.


I don’t know whether they will make the big time or not. Personally, I didn’t love the show, it was funny but not particularly clever. Or different. I certainly didn’t feel a need to see it again, and yet there are several shows that I would race back up for tonight (if you see Luke Kempner out on tour with The Only Way is Downton, that’s worth the ticket price, as is Beyond from Circa).

The same for me applies to food. I meet businesses all the time, sometimes with a really unique idea, though not so often. For the rest, there has to be a spark of something that makes them stand out. And then they have to deliver. And with food, as with theatre, you have to keep on delivering. You’re only as good as your last batch!

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The Foodie Gift Hunter is away

August 9th, 2014 · Foodie gifts




MGG and I are off to Edinburgh for our first experience of the Festival, and I can’t wait. I think it’s testament to the great food and drink of Scotland that my house-sitting uncle has suggested a long list of things he’s going to do around the garden and house whilst I’m away.

I think the price may well be some good smoked salmon and probably a single malt. Still cheaper than a full time gardener!

Twitter updates will no doubt continue!

Photo by Dimitry B on Flickr

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Go on, you know you’re going to want to bake today!

August 7th, 2014 · Foodie gifts

What Sunday afternoons are made for


Last night was definitely all about Great British Bake Off here, and looking at my Twitter feed I was definitely not alone! Which is probably going to mean a run on baking ingredients and bakeware today!

One of the things I love about the web is that it puts so much stuff within your grasp, that before would have meant tracking down a specialist shop. These are some of my favourites, that I’m sure would be able to provide just about anything you wish to bake!

Cake Cookies and Crafts Shop – I’ve used this a lot for things like icing and food colours, but they’re also really good at cookie cutters.

Lakeland – I know they are not new, but I love Lakeland. And I love that they are always moving forward, and I never know what they are going to come up with. I mean, Dalek cake tin anyone?

Sous Chef – perfect for things like freeze dried berries, chocolate couverture and a red velvet spray. I know, who knew? Even less appealing is the green velvet spray, but you just never know, could be all the difference on next year’s bake off!

The Cook’s Kitchen – this is a fantastic source for baking tins, amongst many other things. There are tins here that I never ever thought I needed. It doesn’t mean that I can’t find space for them though.

To be honest, it doesn’t matter what kit you have, you can bake with the simplest of kit, the simplest of ingredients. And turn out something better than anything you can pick up in the supermarkets.

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Starting my Christmas list early!

August 5th, 2014 · British favourites, Foodie gifts, Kitchenwares

Dear Santa…if I *continue* to be very good this year, please could I have some very lovely tea cups and saucers for Christmas?Polka Tea Cups


I’m not sure the photo really does these justice, but I spotted these when I was out shopping today. They have a beautiful mother of pearl cast to the beautiful colours. I would have to leave them out so I could see them every day, as they are so beautiful.

Did I mention that I think they’re beautiful?

They’re from LSA, who I really think have been producing some beautiful products recently, not just in glass. You could buy them direct from their website, or they have them in John Lewis as well.

There is only one drawback. Well, 75 drawbacks really. At £75 these were not just an off the cuff kind of purchase, hence why I’m asking Santa, nicely!

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