Form and Function: The Ostehøvel Model

On my first trip to Sweden, over 6 years ago now, I made two discoveries –  the Osthyvel and the Smörkniv (cheese slicer and butter knife being the literal translation). Admittedly they don’t sound like the most glamorous or exciting of objects but that is kind of the point. Scandinavians seem to have a knack  of making our lives easier and more beautiful at the same time, right down to the detail of the knife you butter your bread with.

So yes the Osthyvel (or Ostehøvel if we were to give it it’s native Norweigen name) is a good looking tool but it also cuts your cheese thinner than a normal knife ever could.

Here’s my pick of some of the best Scandi objects to brighten up your everyday…

 

Scandi-style-practical-and-beautiful-utensils

 1. Hang Around kitchen tools £25, 2. Norm beer foamer  £35, 3. RIG TIG Sweep-It Dustpan And Brush £19.95, 4. Normann tea strainer £17, 5. Goat Hair Hedgehog Dusting Brush £6.95, 6. Collective Tools/Cheese Plane £32.00, 7. A pair of Butter Knives of Juniper £2.50, 8. Dustpan & Broom  £19, 9. A week of dish cloths 7-pack £25

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Brighton: Three is the Magic Number

I turned thirty last month and I like it. Admittedly this could have something to do with how much I’ve been spoilt by friends and family but so far so good – it’s only a number right?

To mark this milestone I’ve had my fair share of celebrations (some I can remember more than others) but on my actual birthday my partner Paul took me on a surprise trip to Brighton. We stayed for three days to commemorate my three decades of life and did my three favourite things: eating, drinking and shopping. It was excellent fun.

So sticking with this theme of three (otherwise I’d be here forever as there’s so much to tell) I thought I’d share my top three eateries, pubs and shops…

 

TOP THREE PLACES TO EAT

 1. 24 st George St

24 St georges brighton

(Apologies for the lack of photographic evidence on this one, as it was a special occasion I thought it best to leave the camera and phone at home)

This was the birthday night dinner, and boy was it good.  The restaurant itself is pretty unassuming, the place has a cosy front room feel to it but nothing to spark my interior interest. I soon realise though that there is no need for them to try too hard with the surroundings when the food is so tasty. Stick to what you’re best at right? I knew we were in for a treat as soon as we were given the poshest scotch eggs I’ve ever had as an ‘amuse-bouche’  – from memory I think they were quails eggs surrounded by mushroom pate then rolled in salted breadcrumbs.  They were delicious anyway and certainly set the standard for what was to come. It’s very reasonable too with mains costing between £13–£20, so book ahead and in advance –  it’s a very popular place.

 

2. Bill’s

Bills-brighton

Bill’s in Brighton

Set in an old bus depot this cafe/restaurant/shop was opened in Brighton in 2005. The founder Bill Collison started life as a greengrocer but after tragedy struck in 2000 and his small shop in Lewes East Sussex was flooded he was forced to start again but this time he added a cafe and has never looked back. Business is booming and there are now Bill’s produce and cafe shops all over the country, my home town Manchester included (although I never realised this).  Despite it now being a pretty big chain it still feels like a local spot, with charming staff, colourful surroundings and most importantly fantastically fresh produce. So whether it be for breakfast, brunch or dinner do make the effort to stop off at the old bus depot. Needless to say I will now be frequenting my local Manchester Bill’s, to test whether the  standard of food and the atmosphere travels.

 

3. Bona foodie

Bona-foodie-brighton

Sausage and mash in a pie. Yes you hear me correctly, a pie.

This deli was just down the road from our apartment and I found it very difficult to walk past without stopping. Their window display was packed full of cakes, pies, pastries, lasagnes and mouthwateringly colourful salads. It’s definitely more of a take-out than a eat-in kind of place, so we took our picnic down to the beach. Healthy salads aside their produce is not for the fainthearted, with offerings such as sausage and mash pie – the pie the equivalent of a potato waffle sandwich or a  sausage roll bap (SRB for short – it’s a Derry thing apparently). We needed a tub full of ketchup to wash it down, but being hungover from the previous nights birthday antics – it certainly hit the spot.

 

The top three continues after the cut with my favourite places to drink and shop

 

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George Dickel – The Other Tennessee Whisky

Bottle of George Dickel Whiskey

I first discovered Dickel’s on the Nashville stint of our road-tripping honeymoon.   We’d taken a day trip out to visit the famous site of Mr Daniel’s whiskey in Lynchburg, and on the winding country roads that took us back into Nashville, we clocked a small sign for George Dickel’s distillery which pointed down a narrow track into some woods .  It piqued our curiosity but it was too late in the day to explore, and we had plans to visit Nashville’s famous Whiskey Kitchen that evening (plus it did cross our mind that it could be a horror film-style plot to lure unsuspecting tourists to their death).

Later that evening we were inhaling copious amounts of bourbon glazed wings and other delights in the Whiskey Kitchen and decided to explore their ‘flights’ of bourbon and whisky.  Lo and behold, we were poured a taster of George Dickel’s black label (no.8).  It was far and away our favourite whisky of the night, beating off competition from much higher priced offerings, including some small batch and single barrel whiskies.  Dickel’s is smooth, sweet and mellow, with a hint of smokiness and makes for a beautiful sipping whisky.  Make sure you have it at room temperature, and with a small drop of water to take the alcohol edge off so you can actually taste the whisky.

You can source George Dickel in the UK from The Whiskey Exchange – our favourites are the No. 8 and the No.12 (pictured above), but they also stock the rye, sour mash and the barrel select varieties.

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Gift Ideas for Hosts With The Most

I’m not really convinced about the term ‘hostess’ gifts. It’s a bit 1950’s / Stepford Wives-ish and makes me think of the dubious ‘hostess’ badge that was on offer when we were Brownies in the early 90’s. I recall that it consistented of Liz and I making tea and sandwiches for adults, whilst holding polite conversation. Somehow I don’t think that the badge was on offer for the guys over in scouts…

In my mind host/hostess gift is basically a ‘thank you for feeding me / putting me up’, and the generosity of the gift is usually relative to the amount of time you’ve intruded on their hospitality. Take note: if you are someone who intends to stay a couple of days and is still crashing on your friend’s couch 6 months later, you owe you some serious gifting (or, you know, maybe some rent).

Booze, usually wine, is the obvious answer, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Plus it can be hard to buy for someone with an intimidatingly well stocked wine cabinet.   It also helps to get a bit creative if you’re staying for a longer stint and want to splash out to treat your hosts who may have saved you a hotel bill. So here are a few alternative ideas, and you can find the full Pinterest list here.

host&hostess-gifts

1.  Day of the Dead – Tequila Añejo 50ml £12.50 (+£6 p&p/collect in store) 2. Whitby Bone China Mug – Indigo £8 (£3.25 p&p) 3. ARV BRÖLLOP Serving stand with lid, clear glass  £15 (collect in store only) 4. Chocolate & Macadamia Biscuits £9.95 (in store/ £4.95 per delivery)  5.  Jersey Pottery Sardine Run Small Jug £19 (in store/£5.95 p&p) 6.  Raspberry Infused Gin £18.50 (+£6 p&p/collect in store)  7. Garden Recipe Cards £14.50 (£5.95 p&p/collect in store) 8. Pitt Cue Co. – The Cookbook £10 (free p&p) 9. Sinatra Stoneware Green reactive glaze platter | £30 (+£4.95 p&p) 10. Marbleised Servingware (Oval) £24 (in store/£8 p&p) 11. Amber vase £5.49 (+£4.79 p&p)

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The Laundrette: Cocktails and Carbs

Laundrette Chorlton Exterior

Beech Road in Chorlton, Manchester is renowned for it’s parade of independent bars, restaurants, deli’s and boutique shops – it’s a mecca for young professionals. The Laundrette bar and eaterie, opened in Summer 2013, is a relatively new addition to the street but its welcoming atmosphere and promise of ‘cocktails and carbs’  have made it an instant hit.

The name ‘Laundrette’ pays homage to the buildings previous occupation (known then as ‘Soap Opera’. Genius). I do miss the old place, possibly because I’ve had to find a new spot to wash my sheets but mainly because I loved the smell of freshly tumbled laundry when walking past. The new occupants soon won me over though, and they’ve continued the Laundrette theme throughout – with starters referred to as ‘Prewash’, sides as ‘Extra Spin’ and all the pricing in halves and quarters (reminiscent of the old token system. Pretty confusing after a few of their cocktails though).

They’ve done a good job on the interior too. Exposed brick walls, reclaimed wood, bare lamp pendants and steel shelving at the bar give the place an industrial twist. And as I’m only 5.2″ the ‘spin to adjust the height’ stools that they have dotted around are a particular highlight. Practical and beautiful – you can find similar from Cox&Cox.

Laundrette Chorlton interior

Laundrette Chorlton interior2

In true Chorlton style produce is sourced locally. The menu is simple, with a focus on pizzas – i’ve sampled a few now and have never been disappointed. There is one reason I keep returning though and that is their rum passion cocktail. Funnily enough precisely what’s involved escapes me, but the ingredient that makes it so memorable is the fresh chilli.  It’s the steepest drink on the menu (£8.50) but worth every penny.

Rum passion

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Gift Ideas: Wedding Presents for Couples

Wedding season is nearly upon us again, and I generally stick with my golden rule of wedding gift giving which is: get the couple stuff they’ve asked for. 

Whether they’ve gone to the trouble of compiling a gift list, or are just asking for donations towards their honeymoon or a charity, heeding their instructions is always a safe bet.

That being said, you do get some couples who don’t ask for anything in particular and often, even with those couples that do, you sometimes want to find an additional something extra to go with their registry gift or donation.   This is when you encounter the nigh on impossible task of buying a gift that is genuinely suited to a couple, and doesn’t just default to the taste / preference of the member of the couple you know best (very easily done).

Homeware is generally not a good idea for risk of duplication, and also risk of subjecting a friend/family member to your taste, which they might have to politely live with until they can plausibly blame destruction on cats/kids/movers.

Here are a few alternative suggestions:

For the honeymoon….

White and Brown leather passport covers

1. For regular jet setters, leather passport cases are stylish and also practical, as they stop passport getting so creased and bashed that airport security look at you suspiciously: Left: Leather golden stars passport cover approx £15  Right: vintage leather passport cover with free personalisation approx. £24

 

Rolled grey stripe towel

2. These stylish Hammam  beach towels (approx. £16) are ideal for those honeymooning in a beach-y destinations (they’re also very lightweight so good for suitcase packing).

 

Cover of national geographic traveller magazine

3. A subscription to National Geographic Traveller magazine to inspire further travels (if you have Tesco clubcard points saved you can buy it with just £8 of vouchers)

[See more gifts for travellers, foodies and homebodies under the cut….]

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Venice: 10 Foodie / Artsy Highlights

Venice rooftops4

Do you remember the post where I sang the praises of Air BnB?  Well they came out on top again on our visit to Venice last month.

Above was the view from the little studio apartment we stayed in, in Venice. It’s so bizarre to be in a city and have an uninterrupted vista over the rooftops of old buildings. In most cities you at least see a peek of some unfortunate 1960’s concrete monstrosity, but Venice is like a city suspended in time (and logic).

I was fascinated by the practicalities of everyday life there, and staying in a building with other local (and very friendly) residents really brought it home. There are no dustbin lorries (refuse trucks) for example, so all rubbish has to be collected daily, hand carted though the streets and then transferred onto barges to be whisked away to the mainland. Deliveries to shops and restaurants all have to be offloaded off the boats and carried up the narrow windy streets and alleyways, and we even wandered past the hospital which had a fleet of water ambulances outside (not sure I’d fancy one of those collecting me if I were ill though!)

The pay off to all that effort from the locals is obviously the famous picture-perfect bridges, canals and car free streets, which didn’t disappoint.  We spent hours exploring and did a standard amount of the ‘big name’ tourist sights, but the best bits were the random back street wanderings and smaller exhibitions / concerts.

10 of the best under the cut… Read More

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Drinks Cabinet: Ron Zacapa Rum

Ron Zacapa Rum

If you’re ever in Berlin it would be remiss not to visit the palace of all things afternoon tea and patisserie: Café Einstein. Its two cafes are featured in every guidebook going and its opulent surrounds are as exquisite as its cakes, but a lesser known hidden treasure lies up the back stairs of the Stammhaus location on Kurfürstenstraße.

I’d scribbled something about an upstairs bar in the margins of my lonely planet guide having seen a reference to it online, but only after poking around in the entryway looking confused did we find an unassuming wooden staircase that led up to the most impressively stocked drinking den I’ve ever had the pleasure of patronizing.

Behind the bar at Bar Lebensstern

beind the bar – just a small snapshot of the drinks in stock

As we entered and took our seats a the gleaming mahogany bar and gazed at the line upon line of back-lit spirits, the barman, dressed immaculately in traditional waiter’s uniform, leaped in the air, cheered, and then apologised profusely. It wasn’t our arrival that caused such a reaction, but (as he surreptitiously revealed) the Champions League final he was secretly watching on a laptop hidden behind the bar. The whole of Berlin was buzzing about the match as it was the first time two German teams had gone head to head in the final (Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund), and every bar and coffee shop we walked past had leigons of fans glued to TV screens to cheering for Dortmund (Berliners having adopted the underdog).

The refined gentleman’s club feel of the establishment would clearly have been ruined by a big screen TV (which probably explained why we were one of only 3 groups in there that evening) but the flash of a muted laptop screen was like catnip to the men in the room.  Within a few seconds a mini crowd had gathered to watch the last 20 minutes (Ste included, obviously) and the barman was nervously positioning the laptop on the bar, hoping the manager wouldn’t drop by….

[continues after the cut]

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My kind of festival: Beards, beer and Bradford

Bradford Beer Festival

Don’t let the post title put you off – you don’t have to have a beard to get in, beer drinking is no longer an old mans game. Companies such as Magic Rock and Camden Town have done a great job of modernising the market and making real ale fashionable again. But whether old or new, there is one thing that seems to unite the brewing community — a sense of humour. And Bradford Beer Festival captures that sentiment perfectly.

Now i’m not going to offer tasting notes, as my choices were purely driven by name,  ‘Costa del Salford: 4.1% brewed by Irwell Works, Ramsbottom’ and ‘Keep Calm and Sup Up: 5.5% courtesy of Junction, Baildon’ being two I can (just about) remember. But don’t worry if beer really isn’t your thing there are plenty of ciders and wines to try out, or just grab yourself a pie and sit back and watch the brass band entertainment – bliss.

However there is one thing you have to try and that’s the tombola. Be warned it’s no ordinary school fair experience though, the prizes are that bad the aim of the game is not to win. I believe ‘winnings’ in previous years have included a nicotine stained smoke alarm and a very well thumbed, wipe clean, book of toilet humour(!)

The festival takes place at the end of February at Victoria Hall, in the beautiful model village of Saltaire (which is well worth a more sober visit too) and I would thoroughly recommend it. Myself and Kath keep going back for more anyway, in fact we have been so many times now that my kitchen cupboard is bursting with the souvenir glasses and beginning to look more like a trophy cabinet (all hard earned trophies of course).

So, see you next year. Make mine a pint of Saltaire blond.

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The Tequila Evangelist

Ocho Blanco tequila

Most people associate tequila with salt, lime, shot glasses and wincing, but when I was in Melbourne in 2012 we got into a conversation with an enthusiastic barman in a Mexican restaurant called Mamasita who introduced me to another side of the spirit.

He was an enthusiastic advocate for good quality tequila, and his bar was impressively stocked without a regular bottle of Jose in sight. He actually supplied free tasters of the tequila in the pursuit of converting us ( it always pays to sit at a bar on an early midweek night with a bored barman). I had to admit – it was nothing like the burning lighter fluid I’d had before. This was sipping tequila of the highest quality, and it turns out it can be rather pleasant in its unadorned state.

We were also educated on the various types; from Blanco, the lightest, through Reposato (‘rested’) to Anejo (‘aged’) which is the richest and served in snifter glasses.  Strict reprimands were given for for drinking anything other than 100% agave, and it was interesting to learn that (like whisky) you can get Lowland and Highland tequilas – the former tend to be more herbaceous and the latter sweeter and more floral.

the bar at Mamasita

studying the tequila menu at Mamasita

When I returned home I checked out the trusty Whiskey Exchange website. They didn’t have any of the particular types we tried but I chose this reasonably priced bottle, which I admit was based partly on the write up, and partly on the rather lovely minimalist modern bottle design which towers elegantly above the golden bourbons and rums on our drinks cabinet.

Ocho Blanco is incredibly smooth, bright and clear with a nice citrusy kick and just enough sweetness to take the edge of if sipped neat. We shall be having some with these Mexican tacos this weekend. If you fancy giving it a try you can buy it here.

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