Writing a food and travel blog inevitably leads to receiving a lot of food and travel themed presents come birthdays and Christmas. Not that I’m complaining and to be honest, it’s always been the case so not just a result of writing the blog. My love of food, cooking and travel has been a major part of my life from my childhood and thus anyone who knows me knows I just love new things connected to this passion. My family and friends buy me brilliant presents and this Christmas has been no exception. From edible treats to the practical, they came up with some great ideas and I thought I would share them with you.
A few weeks before Christmas day, my daughter Nicola gave me a new decoration for the tree. She went to Venice for a few days in November with her partner Rachael and brought me back a lovely glass star from Murano (see in photo above). I have a beautiful glass vase I bought in Murano a few years ago when I was there with her and Jonathan. It was very expensive but they persuaded me to ‘treat’ myself and I’m so pleased they did. It’s not about possession or cost so much as a beautiful memory of a lovely time and this little glass star hanging from my Christmas tree also reminds me of lovely times in Venice and how I believe I shall never tire of visiting that city.
My love of Italy is well known on these pages and although I’ve been learning Italian on and off for many years I’m still far from being a master of the language. Thus my Christmas present from Nicola of Michel Thomas’s Italian Masterclass CD collection is a great encouragement to make more progress. There’s no writing, no ‘homework’, just listening and practising saying phrases as you go. It’s a brilliant way to learn or improve a language so a new year’s resolution is to make a little time each day to listen to the CDs and hopefully soon my teacher Fabio might see a difference!
While we’re ‘in Italy’, my friend Jane gave me a box of Baci di Dama – Lady’s kisses. These traditional Piedmont biscuits are made with hazelnuts and two pieces sandwiched together with a chocolate mixture. An ideal accompaniment to an espresso!
More Italian edible treats came in the shape of a bottle of superb extra virgin olive oil and some balsamic vinegar, gifts from Jonathan and Lyndsey. Seggiano is an excellent producer of Italian foods and this olive oil will be enjoyed with some nice Italian bread to appreciate its fine flavour.
Before we leave the edible gifts, let’s turn to France and some gorgeous chocolate truffles from Paul. These were a gift from a client who knows my love of the French patisserie and boulangerie, Paul. I’m a bit of a girl cliche I know with my love of chocolates and champagne but I’m not about to apologise. However, I only like dark chocolate – I find milk and especially white chocolate far too sweet. I generally prefer plain dark chocolate but there’s something quite wonderful about a good dark chocolate truffle and these ones from Paul are superb and such a fabulous treat.
Now to the non-edible, more practical, but still great presents. A couple of years ago I bought an iPad for my travelling. Lugging a heavy laptop around on holiday so I could write my blog wasn’t very practical at all so the blog provided an excellent excuse to spend money on an iPad. The blog aside, you may not think you need an iPad, but once you have one you wonder how you lived without it. I fell in love with it. And it is brilliant for writing blog posts when away from home. A few weeks ago I noticed mine was damaged: a small corner piece had chipped off leaving a ragged edge. I’d no idea how it happened as I couldn’t remember dropping it, but have since been extra careful. Thus Jonathan and Lyndsey’s present of a special Apple iPad silicone cover is just what I needed (though I would never have spent the money on one myself!). If you look carefully at the photo below you can see the iPad fits neatly inside the casing protecting the edge and now the damaged corner is hidden and my iPad well protected. The top of the cover rolls back and forms a triangular wedge that means the tablet is propped up at a good angle when in use.
My kitchen is full of wonderful, top-quality kitchen gadgets that my son has bought me over the years. He gave me a boning knife as part of my birthday present this year. I never knew I needed one until I came to use it for the first time when boning a chicken and it was a revelation. It made the whole boning process much easier (see Jonathan’s instructions for boning a chicken by clicking here). How had I managed all these years without one! One of his presents to me this Christmas was a Microplane grater. This is far, far superior to the cheap supermarket own-make version I’ve been using to grate my Parmesan and other things for years and a pleasure to use.
My present from Rachael looked a bit like a box of Christmas crackers when it was wrapped up. Or that was my first thought looking at the size and shape of the package but I rather suspected that wasn’t what she’d bought me. No indeed! It was something much more exciting: a collection of the brilliant Joseph Joseph kitchen utensils. Apparently when she suggested this as an idea to Nicola, Nicola told her it was good because all my kitchen utensils were quite old. Well, yes, they were! But in an out-with-the-old-and-in-with-the-new mode of good intention for the new year, I’ve thrown out a lot of the old and now these bright and lovely new ones stand by my cooker!
Nicola’s own ‘practical’ gift to me was some new oven gloves, prettily decorated with hearts and chickens. And yes, much like the kitchen utensils, my sad old oven gloves were in need of replacement so it was a gift not only much appreciated but much needed!
And of course, there just had to be a cookbook! This was one with a difference though. My niece Clara and nephew Leo bought me their school’s cookbook: The Chiddingstone Kitchen, published to raise money for the school. The book has been beautifully designed and produced and Clara and Leo’s own contribution is a paella recipe. Yes, love of cooking is a family trait. Ten-year-old Clara made some wonderful canapés from a Mary Berry recipe on Christmas day and says she wants to be a chef.
This has been a fun way of thanking my family and friends for their presents and although it’s a year until Christmas comes round again, there are birthdays, and so perhaps these gifts will give you some ideas for the food and travel lovers in your life!