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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Messing around around boats

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How to see the regatta?

 

The British summer calendar clicks on, and today sees the start of Henley Regatta. I’ve always thought Henley sounded splendidly civilised, a bit like the cricket at Lords, just with more water. The gentle splash of oars hitting water, an occasion made for Pimms and cucumber sandwiches, and no need to leave dry land at all in order to enjoy the proceedings.

Apparently, yes, there are things going on other than eating and drinking. How incredible!

If you are attending and are within the Steward’s Enclosure, then there are a heap of dress rules to obey, but some good eating to offest this mild inconvenience. According to the website, one can obtain luncheons and teas, and also partake of a seafood restaurant, as well as a licensed bar or too.

By the time you get to the Regatta enclosure then it becomes lunch and afternoon tea. And it had better be good, as you’re not allowed to take your own. Unless you’re the Hairy Bikers I seem to remember. If you want to self cater, then this is a good guide here, and it sounds like it’s a case of get there early, or pay out the cash.

Now you could get those nice people at Fortnum & Mason to do you a lovely hamper or perhaps pop into the Windsor Farm Shop for a more free form picnic still with royal approval. There is a Waitrose in town as a good fall back, but how about something different on your way in? Try the Chiltern Valley Winery, which would find you plenty of interesting wines, and also beers from Old Luxters Farm Brewery. If you wanted great patisserie and breads, then I would head to Marlow and try out Burgers.

And this is not the time for tatty glasses and plates, so have a look round for some good stuff! I thought John Lewis had upped their game this year and have some good stuff in. I rather like the Kingfisher acrylic stuff, for a more sophisticated choice, and could also be tempted by the Summer Dot range. If you wanted to give this as a gift (and it’s something no one thinks about but often needs) then have a look at the Bright Dot 4 person cooler set. If you’re uninspired by a wedding list, I think going off list for something like this would be acceptable.

If you’re going to do the eco route, then forget most paper plates and their one time usage. Try the Eco Picnic Set by Bob By Post, as this can be used several times over, and then can just go in the compost bin. Good call.

So, have fun around the water, try not to fall in, and just occasionally remember to watch the rowing!

Great shot by winkyintheuk over on Flickr.

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Bring on the picnic!

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I am not looking how long this weather is going to last, but it makes me think that picnic season is well and truly upon us. Which means digging out all the picnic gear, and finding out what’s missing. And if I find our picnic blanket has gone missing, or has a big hole in it, then I’d like this one from Cath Kidston please:

 

My new picnic blanket, please

 

I love the retro look, the badges, that set me in mind of old suitcases and travelling. Which can be no better state of mind to enter a picnic with. All I need now is a decent coolbox, and some great weather, and I will be happy to have every meal as a picnic for the next few weeks!

What else do I need though? What makes the perfect picnic for you?

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A great birthday lunch

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Lunch on the Ile de Re

 

Should you wish to whisk a foodie loved one off for a birthday lunch with a difference, can I recommend Bistrot du Marin in Saint Martin on the Ile de Ré? The island is stunning and worth the €16.50 to cross over the bridge, and lunch alone would have made it worthwhile.

In a stunning location overlooking the harbour in St Martin, the Bistrot du Marin is the sort of place I love. No printed menu, just what was on the blackboards. We’d already had the Cote de Boeuf recommended, and this is an amazing dish for two. Coming out with a stack of chips, a blue cheese and a mustard sauce, this is how a rib of beef should be cooked.

Sadly, we didn’t do it complete justice, sending a few slices back, but it was fantastic. Follow it with a walk round St Martin and then an ice cream. You don’t need to know the name of the shop, you can’t miss it. Indeed you won’t want brain space occupied with the name, as there are so many flavours to work through, translate and then decide upon. I didn’t see many people order the Oyster and Caviar ice cream, but who knows? Someone would love it!

It was, all in all, a perfect location for a birthday lunch, with perfect weather. The only thing that would have made it even more perfect would have been to have stayed overnight and start all over again the next day!

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What food is for

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What food is for...breaking bread across nationalities

 

There was an Englishman, a Welshman, a Scotsman and two Dutchmen…

Which is possibly the start to a good joke, but not one I know the punchline to. It’s also the starting point for an informal, impromptu gathering last night, that expanded to include the wives, friends, children and a dog. Not to mention 3 barbecues, some cheap fizz and creme de cassis, quite a lot beer, wine, and a lot of talking and eating.

Nation shall speak unto nation, and over the breaking of bread will find out that they’re really not that bad, or that different. And if food serves no other purpose than the bringing together of people, then that is a good one.

We also found culinary differences. The Dutch children were fascinated by a big bowl of jelly and made huge inroads into it. Who would have guessed? Chocolate bananas were devoured by all. And Ainsley Harriott’s recipes came in for a lot of stick, as by 10pm the dish was still not cooked. May well have been the lack of cheap, thin streaky bacon in this part of France, with the bashed out piece of pork taking a lot longer.

We also discovered, I would guess much to one G Ramsay’s delight, the Netherlanders had never heard of Ainsley. To be fair, they didn’t mention Gordon either, it was all about Jamie Oliver.

So foodie or not, I would urge you to get together around food. There was nothing more grand, Ainsley excepted, than a few sausages, pasta salad and some kebabs last night, but everyone stayed talking and drinking until the most amazing downpour called an end to outside drinking.

Although from some of the quiet faces around the pool this morning, there may not have been an end to indoor drinking. Apparently it is all the fault of the Pineau!

So, back to the Englishman, the Welshman, the Scotsman…

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Not flailing around for a good meal

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The Plough & Flail at Mobberley

I’ve been on a bit of a great North run around over the past two days, which involved an overnight stay in Sale. And dinner at the Plough & Flail in Mobberley. One of those places that is pretty hard to find, but very much worth the effort.

It has all the cues of gastro pub, which can be good or bad. Too many times, there seem to be places that think just slapping up some Farrow & Ball paint makes them a gastro pub. All style, no substance. Not this place. It was one of those menus where you could have ordered everything and anything.

There was everything from great fish to great comfort food. I went for a homemade steak and onion pie, with fabulous hand cut chips, not to mention something described as sticky red cabbage, which was delicious.  Not sure what recipe they used, but there’s one here on the BBC Good Food website that sounds like it would be close.

It’s very close to Tatton Park, so a good stopping point if you are going to an event like the RHS Flower Show in a couple of weeks time. I would suggest whenever you go that you book. We were there at 7pm on a Monday night, and it seemed to have a good amount of tables occupied. There is plenty of outside space as well, but I would imagine it would be packed on a Sunday lunchtime. The food would make it worthwhile though.

If it’s too busy, you could always go and visit the alpacas next door!

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A taste of summer

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Lime Squeezer - all juice, no mess

 

It seems like it’s been a true summer’s day all over the UK today, although tempered, of course, with heavy downpours in places. So I’ve been thinking about warm summery flavours, of which one of my favourite is lime.

It’s tropical but sharp, and goes with all sorts of great things, from fruit to griddled halloumi (one of my favourites). But it can be a so and so to get the juice out of, and doesn’t really love having to use the same juicer as the lemon gets! So if your foodie is a gadget gatherer, then one of their gifts has to be this lime squeezer.

With that vivid green colour, there’s no mistaking what this one is for! It easily squeezes out all the juice and doesn’t drop in any of the seeds, pulp or peel. And at under £10, it’s also a perfect credit crunch gift, with the only thing getting squeezed being the lime, not your bank balance.

What are you going to do with all that lovely juice? Well browsing around I came across this great recipe on The Cottage Smallholder for Coriander and Lime Juice Pesto, which sounds amazing. This would make a really great light summery supper stirred through pasta, with a crunchy green salad on the side, and possible a glass of something white and chilled.

 

Bill Granger Everyday

 

It credits Bill Granger with being the inspiration, who is one of my favourite cooks. I’ve never eaten at any of his places, or even stepped onto Australian soil, but a great many of his books line the bookshelves here. It all looks invitingly fresh and healthy, but not dull. The sort of flavours you want to eat when it’s hot, but not when it’s February.

I am working my way through Bill’s Food and Every Day, as well as Holiday. Now the warm weather is, hopefully, here for a bit, they are just perfect. If your foodie needs some new recipe inspiration, then try these. Just don’t look at them on a wet day, you will feel jealous!

Or else, just book yourselves on that trip to Australia and visit his resturants. That’ll be like all their foodie gifts come true at once!

 

Update

Since I wrote this, I’ve had the joy of a trip to Australia, some amazing eating and a trip to Bill’s very first restaurant. It wasn’t a let down.

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