The best Advent Calendars for food and drink lovers

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I love how Advent calendars have really evolved over the last few years, and the grown ups have really been the ones to benefit. Here’s my favourites that you’ve still got time to order for this year:

24 days of gin

 

Ginvent - my perfect Advent Calendar. Twenty four days of fabulous gin

 

I know, I already wrote about this one. But it still sounds like my idea of heaven and the Ginvent calendar would be top of my list.

 

Get a brew on every day up to Christmas

 

Tea Advent Calendar - get the kettle on

 

I love my tea, and so don’t really need much encouragement to have a cup every day. But a cup of something different every day? That’ll keep it interesting in the run up to the big day.

 

Ale right on the night

 

Craft Beer Advent Calendar

 

Brewing of a different kind with this one, with a bottle of good craft beer behind every door. Although a bit like with the gin one, possibly not for consuming at the breakfast table!

 

A biscuit a day

Biscuiteers Advent Biscuit Tin

Probably doesn’t keep the doctor away, but when biscuits are this beautiful you’re going to feel great. I know Biscuiteers are not cheap, but they are lovely.

 

Sweet treats for this year and every year

 

A sweet treat a day for this year and every year from Fortnum & Mason

 

Whilst this might be expensive for year one, this beautiful wooden advent calendar from Fortnum & Mason can be refilled year after year. In fact Fortnum’s even sell a refill pack, but nothing to stop you doing it yourself in the future.

 

A drop of the pure stuff, every day

 

The Whisky Advent Calendar

If whisky is their thing, then this one is probably right up their street. I appreciate it’s not cheap, and maybe you could just give this as a Christmas gift and cheer up the 25 days that follow. Will make January feel a lot better!

 

Share and share alike

 

An advent calendar made especially for two

 

So,  you could take to views on this calendar from Hotel Chocolat. Either this is a lovely romantic calendar with two chocolates inside each door, one each for you and your loved one. Or it’s a great calendar for a greedy person. Your choice.

 

December is hurtling towards us at a rate of knots, so best to get organised, so that each morning in December it’s not just the kids who have something to look forward to.

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Urban bees deliver bumper harvest in Nottingham

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Urban beekeeping has definitely been on the rise, and the Cornerhouse in Nottingham got in on the act. And this year they’ve had a bumper harvest, and the honey is truly delicious.

 

The bee garden at the Cornerhouse in Nottingham has produced a bumper honey harvest this year

 

There is much debate about urban honey being more flavoursome, given that urban bees end up with a wider range of plants to choose from, rather than possible single sources out in the countryside. I don’t know the reality, but this is lovely. The money from sales is all going to Mencap, and you can pop in and buy a jar either from Icon Hair & Beauty on the top floor, or the management suite.

 

Beekeeping on the roof at Fortnum & Mason

 

I think the most famous urban bees must be the ones that live part of the year on the roof at Fortnum & Mason. It doesn’t look like there is any available at the moment, I think it’s highly in demand and quite limited in production. Worth keeping an eye out for.

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Loved up at Fortnum & Mason

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Valentines Day at Fortnum & Mason - great ideas for Valentine's Day gifts for food lovers

So having written about the oncoming Valentine’s onslaught, thought it was only fair to write about some of the good stuff. Fortnum & Mason were the first people to email about Valentine’s Day, and some of these are a little different, or completely indulgent, but not quite second mortgage level!

Fortnum’s are rightly famous for their hampers, and the Valentine’s Evening Hamper is a sweet little thing (though I could have done without the hamper being red). So, you can start the evening with a candle lit bath scented by the bath truffles (I’m guessing they’re not for eating) and then indulge in a glass of rosé champagne and some chocolates. Or all four things at the same time. This little hamper is £65, or you can go all out with the Valentines Hamper at £120.

Looking for sweet stuff that’s not too sickly/naff? Champagne Gummies are the sophisticated version of Gummi Bears, although are actually alcohol free, so you get all the flavour with none of the headaches. Or the Prince Charming Chocolate Frogs, which the website does suggest you could give to your own Prince Charming. I was thinking more along the lines if you’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs, then may as well be chocolate ones, so maybe for friends without Valentines!

And finally, there’s never an occasion when some sort of fizz isn’t acceptable, and I love this Bellini box, being rather partial to the odd Bellini myself. It’s a no fuss cocktail to put together, and there isn’t a trace of red or pink on this gift. Classy, tasty, and likely to get proceedings off to a good start. Sounds like the making of a great gift to me!

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Maybe this is just the treat of a Fortnum’s hamper I need

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I’ve always wanted a Fortnum’s hamper, just because really. It’s one of those stores that as a kid coming up from Bristol just blew my mind. Not as overwhelming as Harrods, but just an amazing store.

And with all the recent refits, it still does it for me.

 

Halloween Hamper from Fortnum & Mason - a great gift for a food lover at Halloween, all treats, no tricks

 

I think they’ve definitely got with the times, and I do love their Halloween collection each year (although being Fortnums it’s listed as Hallowe’en, and I do love good punctuation). This little Trick or Treat hamper is just so cute (possibly not the right word for Halloween) but who doesn’t want a Dracula gingerbread? Not to mention a whole stack of scary sweets.

And then that basket is perfect for collecting an awful lot of trick or treat goodies. But even more so it’ll carry a great picnic when the warm weather returns!

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Got to love a Fortnum’s Christmas

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As a teenager I came to London quite a few times with my dad, which meant pretty much the only route I knew for a long time was all the way in from Bristol, keep going straight, and then turn right down the side of Fortnum & Mason to head to St James’ Square.

But it was Fortnum & Mason that was the draw, it was an eye opener for a kid that had always lived in the provinces. The doormen, the uniforms of the staff, the lighting. Amazing.

 

Fortnum & Mason Christmas windows - perfect place for gifts for food lovers

 

Sadly, Santa has never brought me a legendary F&M hamper, but maybe one year. I was thrilled to manage a very brief trip through there last week, a glance at the Christmas windows and a quick hunt of some lovely things for Christmas. Here’s a few that I thought might be worth considering, for something special, fun and not silly prices:

 

Glittery marmalade from Fortnum & Mason - glittery gift for a food lover

 

Sparkly Strawberry jam - great gift for a food lover who likes their jam on the sparkly side

 

The glitter and sparkle fairy had been busy all around the food department. There was glittery mulling syrup, glittery marmalade, glittery strawberry jam…although they have better names than that. So maybe you would choose Strawberry Stardust Preserve, Mulled Wine & Gold Leaf Preserve or the Bucks Fizz Marmalade. All a bit of fun, would imagine still very tasty, and all under £7.

 

Fortnum Christmas cake kit - great gift for a food lover who likes to do it themselves

 

A Christmas cake of a decent size from Fortnums isn’t cheap, so perhaps the next best thing is a Fortnum’s Christmas Cake Kit. I thought it was really nicely presented.

 

Alphabet cakes for everyone - great gift for a food lover

 

There were some great cakes named after different professions, which I thought looked great, and maybe you’d strike lucky by having a cake to match the occupation of a loved one. Sadly I can’t see them online, but if you were passing by the store it would be worth looking for.

 

Fortnums cheese biscuits - great gifts for food lovers who like cheese

 

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a cheeseboard, and I really loved these biscuits for cheese. They’re just fun to look at although I am sure they taste delicious too. I’d like the Pink Peppercorn Nibbles and the Malted Morsels, just for being something different. If you can’t decide between flavours then there are two selection tins as well, which would definitely make great foodie gifts.

 

Royal blend tea from Fortnum & Mason - great gift for a food lover who likes their tea classy

 

If it’s Fortnums then there has to be tea, and I really was spoilt for choice. There were some beautiful caddies, and I would choose the Royal Blend, as I had a particular American friend in mind. He would love this, for the history, for the styling and just for thinking he was drinking the tea of kings and queens.

Delivery is not extortionate, and there is of course a collect in store option if you’re passing. I think these are some fun additions to a Christmas gift, with a bit of British cachet to the name, so particularly great if you’re buying for visitors from overseas. There again, that glittery marmalade is calling to me!

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Perfect tea biscuits to go with a cup of tea

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I really do like a cup of tea. Can’t start the morning without it, and the afternoon wouldn’t be complete without it. And a cup of tea needs a bit of an accompaniment to it.

 

Tea biscuits - great gift for a food lover who loves their tea

 

So those purveyors of very fabulous afternoon tea, Fortnum & Mason, have produced tea biscuits with a dash of their own tea in each one. I think my morning choice would be the Royal Blend, shifting to the Earl Grey in the afternoon. A great butter biscuit, in beautiful packaging. Lovely to eat yourself, great gift to give someone else. As they’re presented in a tin, then quite easy to travel distances as well.

If you can bear to let them go.

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The essence of an English summer in a hamper

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There was a brief glance of summer last weekend, when most of the UK got to feel the sun on their face. It made me think of all those tastes of summer, like cucumber sandwiches, Pimms and elderflower.

 

English Essentials Hamper

 

And if I was having a treat for summer, then I’d feel myself lucky to be the recipient of a Fortnum’s English Essentials Hamper. There’s pickles and chutney to add to a ploughmans, or raspberry jam for your afternoon tea. Oh, and there’s good tea included as well.

So you could make yourself a good cup of tea, a sandwich or two and a scone, and settle down to read the copy of  Tea at Fortnum & Mason that comes with it. Hopefully all this under a tree in the dappled sunlight, as opposed to inside listening to the rain lashing against the windows!

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A different kind of egg for Easter

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The Full English Scotch Egg

This wasn’t the post I was planning to write, as I was busy looking at Simnel cakes. Fortnum & Mason is one of my go to sites for Simnel, which they still do, but was distracted by their big focus on Scotch Eggs.

I’d love to see someone’s face on Easter morning if they opened a box of Scotch eggs, but if they’re a savoury lover then it might just make their day. The Full English version looks incredible, and the box of 6 quail eggs would be a great looking gift.

If you wanted to send a huge variety of flavours, or something a bit different, then it has to be The Handmade Scotch Egg Company for me. I mean, where else would you go for a Scotch Egg that included pork, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, or pork, beer, mustard and cress. Or even one with no egg, and no meat but smoked salmon, cream cheese and potato.

I’m always up for a gift that’s a bit different, a bit fun without being gimmicky, naff or lacking in taste, of the food variety. Which is why these appeal hugely to me. Although I think delivering a pair of freshly shot rabbits might be taking the alternative theme a bit too far.

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Spring a new hamper on someone

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I’ve never received a Fortnum & Mason hamper, but still think there must be something quite special about getting one. I do like that they don’t rest on their laurels and come up with new ideas, and this year’s are just out.

I really like the West Country hamper, packed in a fisherman’s creel, packed with plenty of artisanal goodies from the area. Green’s Cheddar would be washed down very nicely with the Burrow Hill Cider from Julian Temperley’s orchards. I’m very fond of a proper teatime anyway, so the teatime hamper, and all its lovely goodies, would definitely tick the right boxes for me. Great jam, biscuits and tea…just ready for a brew!

Of course they’re an indulgence, but I don’t know many people who would turn their noses up at these, so always a safe bet as a gift. Safe, but not dull!

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Buzzing about National Honey Week

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Save the Bees

I missed this last week by being in Hong Kong, but honey and bees seem to be a very hot topic at the moment. I love that Harry Eastwood was working with the Honey Association on recipes for the week, as I’m a huge fan of hers (as my well thumbed copy of Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache would testify!).

Everyone wants to talk honey and preserving the bees, it’s definitely one of the foodie causes de jour. Want to support the cause or get involved? Here’s a few of the things that have caught my eye:

* For the urban wannabe(e) beekeeper, then they’ll probably be lusting after a Beehaus. From the people who brought us the Eglu, the Beehaus makes some parts of beekeeping modern and cool. Although not the outfits. And they’ll sell you the bees too. Don’t underestimate this service, ours is still a virtual hive as we are bee-less.

*Check out the limited edition from Innocent which is Lemons, Honey & Ginger, noticeable for the hive picture on the front. This is their “buy one get one bee” campaign, which will help to install beehives across the sites of the National Trust and the Federation of Irish Beekeepers. It also comes with a packet of bee friendly seeds for you to make your own garden a bit more bee friendly. Personally, I didn’t like the smoothie, as it mainly tastes of banana and a little honey, and I’d have liked a bit more of a ginger kick. But, hey, the bees are happy!

* If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, then I highly recommend a read of A World Without Bees. The stats are frightening, both in terms of how quickly they have been dieing out, as well as the impact on the environment, agriculture and the economy. Not the happiest read, but interesting.

* Probably the most famous urban beekeepers are those at Fortnum & Mason, where there are famously hives on the roof. You can buy honey from the rooftop of the London store, or the more rural bees of Salisbury Plain. They also have honey from around the UK, from Scotland to Wales, as well as New Zealand and the Pitcairn Islands. I imagine the carbon footprint is quite high on the last two!

* Manuka honey is supposed to have huge health benefits. Whether this applies when you use it in vodka I’ve no idea, but I would imagine I might feel a bit better with a shot of 42 Below’s Manuka Honey Vodka. I’m rather liking the sound of Honey on the Rocks, a bit like a more interesting version of Beechams by the sounds of it!

* Many beekeepers are very small producers, so you are most likely to find their produce in your local shops and at your farmer’s market. Keep a look out for them and do what you can to support them. Remember if you are shopping anywhere else to look for a named country of origin on your honey, as everything just labelled honey can be made from blends of honey from all around the world. Or from cheapest sources available. Honey isn’t cheap, but it’s worth paying that bit more for to support the systems that support great beekeeping practices.

* If you don’t want to go down the whole beekeeping route (I’ve seen the outfits, it’s not for everyone) then you could just do your bit by making whatever space you have for growing things more bee friendly. Most of the seed companies have caught onto this trend and give you some good views on what to buy.  Crocus have Bee Attract Seed Mix, Sarah Raven offers a great option with Garlic Chives (bees love them and you can eat them) and Thompson & Morgan have 61 different bee friendly options.

So, you might be like me and missed National Honey Week, but it’s never too late to get involved and support our beekeepers, and our bees.

Bee campaigner snapped by Kevin Krejci over on Flickr.

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