An Advent-aegous Purchase

 

In just over two weeks we’ll all be opening that first, exciting door on the advent calendar and this year there are dozens of options to choose from. Not just for children, in recent years advent calendars have exploded in a plethora of extremely grown-up delights. From affordable luxury to extreme indulgence, these will surely satisfy all the adults in the family.

Here is just a small selection of my favourites.

Pukka Tea Christmas Calendar 

What’s more relaxing than sitting down on front of a cosy log fire sipping a delicious herbal tea? The Pukka Tea calendar offers a variety of flavours to suit all aspects of the festive season. An affordable treat at £9.99

Hotel Chocolat Grand Advent Calendar 

Who doesn’t indulge in a bit of naughtiness over the Christmas holidays? This calendar is jam-packed with Hotel Chocolat’s  excellent and innovative products, from truffles to cocoa gin – it’s got something for everyone and at £68 proves rather good value.

Master of Malt: Whisky Calendar

For the Whisky lover, the Master of Malt calendar offers 24 delicious tipples to get you through the cold winter nights and put a little fire in your belly, at £149.95 it is rather more indulgent but Christmas comes but once a year!

The Spicery Curry Legend Advent Calendar

Curry, every day until Christmas? Yes…24 curry recipes hide behind these quirky little doors and the calendar comes with four spice blends, all of which combine to create delicious flavours proving that curry doesn’t have to be confined to boxing day – an economical buy at £29

Honest Brew Craft Beer Advent Calendar 

Well, if you’ve selected the curry calendar, here’s the perfect complimentary choice. A plethora of craft beer from around the globe. I can personally recommend this one, there  really are beers for all occasions and at £139, it’s not too bank breaking either.

Joe and Seph’s Popcorn Advent Calendar 

Popcorn, a movie every night? 24 bags of yummy popcorn make this a perfect gift for the film buff in the family. With flavours ranging from Banoffee Pie to Toffee Apple and Cinnamon, through White Chocolate and Strawberry, this sweet treat is available for just £25

Fever-Tree Ultimate G & T Advent Calendar 

G and T, and T done well is Fever-Tree. With 12 gins and 12 mixers, this calendar is perfect for the gin lover of the family. Offering a selection of the better known British gins, this retails at £60 and will really get you into the festive ‘spirit’

Fortum and Mason Rare Tea Wooden Advent Calendar

The beautiful offering from Fortum and Mason comprises 24 elegant round pots filled with exotic and rare tea. At £145 it is certainly aimed at the luxury market, however the wooden calendar offers a wonderfully nostalgic twist and can be re-used for years to come.

The Snaffling Pig, Pork Crackling Advent Calendar 

For the low carb fanatic, the Pork Crackling advent calendar from The Snaffling Pig costs £17.50 and offers 24 packets Great Taste winning crackling . This A3 offering will surely impress the snacker in the family and combined with the G and T or Craft Beer calendars, it’ll certainly satisfy that ‘nibbley’ itch.

 

IMG_1937

 

 


The Monmouthshire Food Festival – Fit for a King (or the son of one anyway!)

Last weekend, Thomas of Woodstock’s once splendid castle at Caldicot played host, for the second time this year, to The Monmouthshire Food Festival. In general the weather held and there were some moments of dazzling sunshine, as visitors were treated to two splendid days of food, drink, demonstrations and workshops.

Although not the biggest in the area, there is a quaintness to The Monmouthshire Food Festival. It’s cosily snuggles into the courtyard of Caldicot Castle, and has ample stalls to while away several hours. On offer was everything from Squirrel meat to artisanal soda, passing through cheeses, sauces, jams and all manner of alcoholic and non-alcholic drinks.

In the demonstration tent visitors were treated to a broad range of wonderfully seasonal  recipes from passionate local chefs including BBC Masterchef: The Professionals semi-finalist and former sous-chef to, amongst others, Marcus Wareing,  Liam Whittle; who IMG_0405produced an outstanding Duck dish with flavoursome Quinoa and Salmon in Asian Style Broth – needless to say, both were delicious.

There were also guided tastings; I enjoyed a beer and food pairing workshop with Brecon Brewing’s Buster Grant and Gloucestershire based Hillside Brewery’s Paul Williamson; and found myself tasting a variety of foods from The Blaenavon Cheddar Cheese Company’s Oak Smoked Cheddar through to the rather excellent chocolate of Black Mountain Gold, by way of a deliciously chewy Lavabread Salami from Cwm Farm. All the beers were good, some pipped others to the post, but generally the extremely knowledgeable brewers had it all spot on.

The street food was excellent; prize-winning Welsh street-food  purveyors, The Original Goodfilla’s Company were offering their trademark calzone style Pizza, and I was delighted to discover Hereford based The Grub Shed with their obscenely decadent Brisket Fries, and, a bottle of Somerset Elderflower Lemonade from Somerset based Hullabaloo’s was just the ticket to wash it down.

It’s always wonderful to find new local producers to add to my every-increasing dossier and this time was no exception. I tasted cured Mutton by Gwella, a Welsh delicacy which was extremely popular in the 18th and 19th centuries and which I had even contemplated trying to produce at home due to the lack of commercial availability; amazing freezer friendly curry sauces from Rayeesa’s Indian Kitchen, artisanal botanical syrups from Tast Natur (some of which took you straight back to a summer meadow), the extremely potent Eccentric Gin whose Limbeck New Western Style Gin was one of the most innovative I’ve tasted yet, and I was introduced to Lurvill’s Delight (more on that soon).

I also managed to acquire a bucket of traditionally Welsh-style loose tea from Morgan’s Brew Tea Company and a yummy Nutella Swirl from Baked on Green Street.

I really enjoyed my day at The Monmouthshire Food Festival and could easily have loaded my larder fit to burst with the sheer array of produce on offer. However, I had to draw the line somewhere,else we would have struggled back to the car!

There are plans for four Monmouthshire Food Festivals next year, including two in Monmouth’s Shire Hall (almost on my doorstep).

I think they’ll be very well received, because our county’s commitment to buying local and artisanal produce is ever-growing and we have so much to be proud of.


In search of breakfast…

IMG_5888

Allegedly the most important meal of the day; and I am inclined to agree. Until I eat breakfast I just can’t concentrate properly – I have read a great deal on breakfast, researched ‘breakfast’ throughout the world, looked in to history it it – and became rather fascinated about it’s changing role in our society.

Breakfast literally means ‘breaking the fast’ – and was only placed at the beginning of the day, as a specific meal, when the fashion for dining changed from one main meal of the day (and a lighter supper) to three meals a day in the 16th century. It is said that the Tudors invented breakfast. Although their breakfast, and indeed breakfasts up until the mid twentieth century were far more robust than today’s muesli and Nutella toast.

IMG_7001

 

 

I think the Edwardian breakfast is probably the King; several courses, served buffet style in large houses, comprising porridge, kippers, ‘the full English’ and the odd kidney (of which I am not very fond). The arrival of cereals in the later 19th century brought about the quicker almost ‘grab and go’ breakfast, which is sadly where we generally are today.

Recently, there has been so much contrasting information relating to the healthiness of the ‘Full English’ –  currently, saturated fats are good for us, twenty years ago they were bad….what is the truth? There are now the paleo devotees who preach about piles bacon of runny eggs, the health brigade with their chia, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free choices and the more usual toast and marmalade lovers who just want ‘something light’.

IMG_6993

At home, we enjoy rather varied breakfasts – dependant of course on time and current food ‘fad’. Usually it will involve eggs and wholemeal bread, sometimes bacon and occasionally something exotic like sweet potato rosti and avocado. If we’re feeling indulgent the croissants come out.

One of the easiest Autumn breakfasts is without a doubt, Porridge, made with oatmeal and served with a good glug of double cream and either maple syrup or fruit compote (blackberry being a particular favourite). On the weekend a ‘Full English’ is non-negotiable; buckets of tea both days complete the line-up.

IMG_5986

I am one of those strange people of actively look forward to the breakfast at hotels, I’ll often sneak a look at their menu and pre-plan; hotel breakfasts can take you right

through the day without need for lunch of carefully planned – I devote hours searching the local farm shops for the ‘ultimate’ bacon and am totally repulsed by the supermarket offerings with their seepage of white gunk. Eggs have to be free-range, preferably organic (from our chickens if we can find where they lay them) and toasted sourdough or heavy stone-ground wholemeal has to be smothered in salted butter and a little marmalade. Beans, I can leave but mushrooms are usually lurking somewhere on the plate, as is black pudding. In Cornwall we enjoyed hog’s pudding which is a white sausage and often far more palatable than than the red. In Scotland, Lorne sausage squares and a slice of Haggis is included. The Irish breakfast with its potato cakes and soft soda bread is totally yum. Of course, in Wales we have our own full breakfast addition – Lavabread. This seaweed is well cooked, and either served as is or made into little cakes and fried to bacon fat; do not be put off by it’s shoreline credentials – just try it and you will be surprised.

Apparently the healthiest breakfast in the world is from Iceland and comprises Oatmeal, Skyr (a delicious Icelandic yoghurt which gives the Greeks a run for their money), dark rye breads, cheeses and meals. I’d be quite happy to indulge! So this Autumn why not experiment a little – whether adding a twist to the usual pre-school offering or going all out on the weekend, breakfasts is well worth the effort.