Sunday, 2 March 2014

The right gift for your foodie friend's wedding...

A good friend of mine got married last year. She and her husband are well set up in their lives so a toaster just wasn't going to cut it as a gift! I wracked my brains for months trying to pick the perfect gift for them. 

Some of my ideas included:
- a photobook of their relationship (someone else beat me to that!)
- a piece of art (too much potential for controversy)
- a great bottle of wine (destination wedding meant it risked getting broken)
- a photo frame for a wedding photo (didn't feel personal enough)

So, basically some nice, but not suitable ideas! Luckily, my friend came up with a great idea. We all love to eat great food, so we treated ourselves to a nice restaurant in Melbourne - Vue du Monde - to celebrate their wedding and also my own from a few months earlier. 

Vue du Monde is the restaurant of Australian chef, Shannon Bennett and has great views over Melbourne. We arrived early for a drink at the bar and played a quick game of "Spot the Building". What followed was a feast of food and wine - The picture above is actually one of the desserts! By the end I could barely move! It was such a great evening of food, wine and, most importantly, friendship. What a great gift!

So the next time you are looking for a gift for a friend, think about an experience rather than an item. Memories are priceless (although photos also help!). 

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The right gift for a No Meat Athlete…

This one was actually a gift for me. Being a No Meat Athlete for me is completely aspirational - unfortunately I am not sure I can call myself either No Meat or an Athlete. I’m not a full vegetarian, never mind vegan, but I don’t eat a lot of meat and I am always looking to reduce the amount of meat and dairy products in my diet. I exercise regularly but lately I have lacked the drive to push myself that bit further. So I bought this book to re-motivate myself.

It is a great book - it is written by Matt Frazier (from No Meat Athlete blog) and Matthew Ruscigno (Registered Dietician). The first part focuses on nutrition and how athletes can meet all their dietary needs with a plant based diet. It deals with that endless question of "where do you get your protein from?” and has plenty of great recipes. The second part is designed to help get you back into running - or whatever your sport of choice is - through habit change, training concepts and goal setting. What I loved about the book was all of the “case studies” or examples of people who have taken these approaches and succeeded in their goals - including Matt’s own journey to qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

What really resonated with me was the section on goal setting and how we can unconsciously sabotage ourselves by not setting our goals high enough. According to Matt, the goal should give us butterflies in our stomach and make our palms sweat a little. Once this goal is in place, it is all about setting a reasonable deadline and training properly to prepare ourselves for it. So lets say running a marathon is the goal that makes you that mixture of nervous and excited, first you would train and run a 5k and then work your way up to the marathon. The point though is that you have this ultimate desire to reach that marathon goal and that is what gets you out of the house to train.

What’s the goal that gives me butterflies? Doing a triathlon. I’m not exactly sure why - just running, cycling or swimming a certain distance isn’t particularly interesting to me but put them all together and somehow I want to be involved! Don’t ask me about my training plan yet… that is definitely a work in progress!

What's your goal?

The right gift for: anyone interested in plant based diets or exercise.
Price: £10.34 paperback or £5.84 on kindle

Photo credit:
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Monday, 17 February 2014

Live audience at the Jonathan Ross Show...

As a "it's winter, let's do something exciting!" gift to my husband, I applied for tickets to be in the live audience of The Jonathan Ross Show. I didn't hear anything for quite a while so I assumed that I had not been successful and forgot all about it. Less than a week before the date I had applied for, though, I got an email telling me we had two tickets for the show on 5th Feb!

The big day unfortunately coincided with a tube strike so I was running late. We were meant to be there before 6pm, my husband was already in the queue and I was rushing along Southbank to get there. Next thing I know, I'm face down at the foot of a statue located on a small plinth that I hadn't seen and had tripped over. Whoops, slightly damaged pride and some ripped tights later, someone kindly helps me to my feet and I am on my way.

I reach my husband in the queue just as he has received his wristband, which means I am sent to the back of the queue to wait my turn. He joins me and we anxiously wait to see if we will both get seats - although we received tickets, SRO slightly overissue tickets to ensure full capacity. Luckily we did get in and took our seats in the studio, looking around the set and joking about how much larger it seems on TV. The evening started off with the warm up act who picked on people in the audience. We were pretty happy not to be sitting towards the front, even though this particular show isn't heavy on the audience interaction!

At about 7.30pm the show started and our job as the cheering audience began. I found it really interesting to see how it was filmed - which was without "takes". There were breaks in recording in between each guest but other than it ran pretty smoothly. It was great to see the full interviews, each of which took about 20 to 25 minutes. Guests that day were Kiefer Sutherland, Chris O'Dowd, Kevin Bridges, Emily Mortimer and John Legend. We had fun spotting boring stories that the show would likely remove from the final cut. In one of the recording breaks Jonathan was interacting with the audience and showing off his Japanese language skills. Chris O'Dowd had a few drinks backstage (after his interview) and was hilarious during the recording of the trailer, fluffing up Jonathan's hair incessantly.

We had a really great time at the show and would definitely do it again. It was straightforward to get the tickets - I applied through SRO audiences. I would recommend being there in good time though, to ensure you get a seat.

The right gift for: a Jonathan Ross fan or someone who wants to experience being in a TV audience
Price: FREE
Add on potential: Date night a few days later, watching it on the TV!

Photo credit: SRO Audiences website

Monday, 10 February 2014

The right gift for over the top foodies...

A giant Peugeot Pepper mill!

This is actually a gift we have received last year from a family friend. It is an 80cm long Peugeot Pepper Mill and it is fantastic! It is so over the top huge and impractical that we absolutely love it. Every evening for dinner one of us will run in with it and offer fresh pepper whilst trying to hold it as high above the plate as we can!

Technically, these pepper mills work superbly - I can't recommend them enough. The only issue we have is where to store it when not in use!

Of course it's not necessary to get the giant one, but it is fun!

The right gift for: The zealous home cook
Price: Varies depending on size - this large one is £167. 
Add on potential: Add some nice pepper varieties for a special touch.

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The right gift for a future Sommelier....

A nose for wine...

Picking a present for my husband is not easy, I want something great but not always something expensive. For the past few years I had Le Nez du Vin in mind as a possible present and this year, a round birthday, I decided to take the plunge.

Le Nez du Vin is a set of scent vials and a book covering common wine scents. You can test yourself on recognising different smells or can check what scents are commonly found in a particular wine and smell each of them.

The set comes in various options - white wine, red wine, the master kit, plus additional fault and oak kits. I went for the master kit and I might add the fault kit as a Christmas present!

What I really like about it is how classy it looks and that it is completely handmade. It will be great at dinner parties too.

It is a great present for a wine lover wanting to improve his or her ability to describe wine. My husband was super excited to receive it and we have already had fun testing our sense of smell!

Wine not the right thing? Check out Le Nez du Whisky or Cafe!

The perfect gift for: Wine lovers
Price: Master kit£219.00 or the 24 scent kit £96.00
Add on potential: Add on kits such as Wine Faults or the whisky or cafe versions can be bought at a later stage.

Photo credit: Le Nez du Vin website

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Pick the right Valentine's gift....

Oh, Valentine's Day is tough, isn't it? I never know whether to buy a present or not, or how much to spend on the present or even how sappy to be in the card. One thing I truly believe, though, is that the gift should be authentic and heartfelt - not just bought because it is Valentine's Day. 

So this year, instead of worrying about the commercialisation of the day, I am going to use it as an excuse to show my husband and also my family and friends how much I care. It is pretty easy to get caught up in the busyness of life and forget to tell my loved ones how important they are.

I am focusing here on things that are free or cheap, but heartfelt. There are hundreds of recommendations out there for expensive gifts so I will skip that this week. 

For my husband, I will drag myself out of bed before him and make us a cup of tea or espresso before we go to work. We used to have a hot drink together every morning before work but then we got busy and the ritual just went away. 

I wish I could visit my parents, but they are too far away so I am sending them a card just to say thanks for being great parents. 

Lately emails to friends overseas have been reduced to one-line responses, so I am going to take some time this week to write proper emails. I am way overdue filling them in on what is happening in my life and asking them about their lives. I also want to make plans for seeing them all again soon. 

For my friends close by, I would love to start more traditions with them and will make the effort to organise these rather than just waiting for stuff to happen. 

And for myself... I will take 5 minutes to myself on friday and be grateful for all of these wonderful people in my life. 

What will you do to celebrate?