a totally last minute gift guide - thoughtful local gifts and vouchers

The internet currently awash with gift guides (plus sponsorship opportunities and affiliate links for bloggers, excuse my cynicism!), so I've put together a list of gifts from £2 - £200 that hopefully not only will be well received but also that you can go and buy in Edinburgh, today, or vouchers that you can print and hand over if you don't want to brave the crowds or aren't actually in Edinburgh. There's nothing in it for me, these are just local businesses that I've come across and loved in the last year and hope you will too.

Drinks:

Mr Eion Coffee hamper: pop into Mr Eoin's Stockbridge coffee roastery and shop where you can pick up a gift box containing an Aeropress, filters and a bag of his special Festive Blend coffee. The coffees are ethically sourced and carefully roasted in the shop. The blog is powered by his Moustache Twirler blend, without which I can barely function.  He also stocks a lovely range of coffee pots and whole rainbow of cups to make your morning coffee delicious and instagrammable! Open 10-5 most days, and 11-4 on Christmas Eve (or until the coffee runs out). Then he's closed until 3rd January, so don't forget to stock up or you risk a very large Hogmanay Hangover indeed.

Aelder Elixir: Tom and Rupert, the duo behind The Buck and Birch supper club have come up with this liqueur hand crafted in small batches combining foraged Elderberries and wild Scottish botanicals and spices, blended with Scottish whisky. Try it on its own or in one of the cocktails suggested on their site. My favouriteway to drink it is the Aelder Negroni with Rosemary. You should be able to pick up a bottle or two from  Vino or Royal Mile Whiskies (spoiler alert for family members who may be receiving a bottle of this in the next few days)

Old Curiosity Gin: there are so many new fancy gins on the market, but I really really love these floral spirits made with such care by the team at the Secret Herb Garden. Infused with botanicals grown at their Pentlands nursery, they almost have medicinal properties. Plus, the gins magically change colour when you add tonic! They pair very well with another favourite of mine, Bon Accord tonic which contains a lot less sugar than the usual brand. Of the three flavours; Chamomile & Cornflour, Apothecary Rose and Lavender & Echinacea, my favourite is the delicate rose. However, I recently made a gin and lavender sorbet which went down a storm and I'll pop the recipe here soon. Lots of stockists in Edinburgh, find your nearest one here 

Eteaket teas: I only recently discovered Eteaket teas. They have a lovely cafe on Frederick Street, but also a store on Rose St where you can sample their huge range of teas, Coco chocolates and accessories, there is something here for every budget and taste.  After a tea tasting session (recommended) I won a subscription to their tea club which I'm really enjoying trying a selection of different teas which arrive magically in the post each month. 

 

Vouchers and experiences: 

Afternoon tea at the Balmoral: absolutely the best afternoon tea in Edinburgh I think (and I've tried a few). The glamorous setting in Palm Court, plus the care put into making all the delicate pastries and sandwiches which can be served with an amazing silver needle tea grown in Scotland really makes this a special experience. From £40. you can book online 

Giant Lanterns of China at Edinburgh Zoo: this installation of over 450 dazzling giant lanterns illuminates the Zoo spectacularly each night and continues until February 25th if you are looking for something to do in that awkward week of school holidays after Hogmanay. I took the 6 year old to the opening night, and we both absolutely loved it. Created by 150 artisans and using 16,000m of silk and 20,000 low energy lightbulbs, the lanterns create a totally magical atmosphere as you walk around the trail, but also highlight the Zoo's work as a conservation charity. Tickets from about £10 and under 3s go free.

Narcissus Flowers: one of my favourite florists, you could pop into their shop in Broughton St, open until 4pm on 24th December, or you can buy a gift voucher and a flower subscription service from their online store. They also have a flower school where you can learn the art (and craft) of flower arranging. Note to Santa, I'd love to do this myself, if you could please also provide a babysitting voucher...

A tour with Rabbies, Edinburgh Photowalks or Iconic tours. I've lived in Edinburgh for 14 years, but whenever I've taken a tour with these folks I've had a brilliant time and come away having learnt so much and made some new friends in the process.

National Trust for Scotland membership: we've been making the most of the family membership gifted to us by the National Trust for Scotland. They look after 129 properties across Scotland. Membership gives you free access to those including 10 spectacular castles. They also look after large chunks of iconic Scottish landscape such as St Kilda and Glencoe, including 400 islands and 400 miles of footpaths, all supported by their members. There's also a reciprocal arrangement with other similar organisations so members can also access the English National Trust's properties for free, and others in the USA, Canada, or the Cayman Islands if you happen to be visiting.

A donut making course at Baba Budan. I didn't really get the whole recent donut obsession until I discovered Baba Budan. Their bakers come in at 3am to make the dough and their donuts are amazing. They also do really really good coffee to go with them. Now they offer a two hour donut making class for £55, plus you get to take home what you bake. I'll be booking it for myself in the new year...

So, happy shopping, and wishing you all a calm and merry Christmas. I'm about to sit down with a mince pie and glass of mulled wine - cheers!

 

My most unforgettable holiday moment and a chance to win a holiday from British Airways Holidays (sponsored post)

My most unforgettable holiday moment and a chance to win a holiday from British Airways Holidays (sponsored post)

Do you have an unforgettable holiday moment? What I tend to remember from a holiday are the imperfect moments, the mini-disasters that we can (usually) look back on and laugh at, and, with the benefit of hindsight, enjoy. Share yours to be in with a chance to win a British Airways Holiday

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8 unique items to buy from an Italian supermarket

Here are 8 unusual items you could* buy in an Italian supermarket. *Could does not always mean should.  Personally, one of my favourite parts of travelling is food shopping. We usually end up renting an apartment rather than staying at a hotel (sitting in a darkened hotel room while the kid sleeps is never an inspiring travel experience) and part of the joy of this is getting to shop for and cook local foods whether in markets, specialised grocers or just exploring the local supermarkets. There's something about the mundane setting of a supermarket that really highlights the foreignness of what's on offer.

 

Luckily my family is for the most part pretty tolerant of this enthusiasm, although there have been a few experimental meals when we lived in Japan when it was suggested that we try and work out how to call for a pizza instead of eat what I had made (more of that another day, but basically being able to Whatsapp photos of food packaging from the shops to my bilingual friend Nuria to translate was an absolute lifeline and meant that at least we never ate soap powder instead of sugar).

 

Anyway, we are in Italy at the moment, so I thought I'd share a few of the oddities that I've come across that mark out the difference between our local stores: upmarket Esselunga and good value Pennymarket and what's available back in the UK.

 

1. Ready prepared prickly pear

Now I'm not normally a fan of fruit imprisoned in a rigid plastic box. Its such a waste of packaging, and I just prefer to choose which fruit I want and the quantity we need. But this is brilliant. I really love prickly pears (and the kid, being a Jungle Book fan is at least in love with the idea of them) but after a few near suicidal attempts at gathering them in the wild, and discovering that they really are extremely prickly, I'm in love with whoever came up with this.

 

2. Nutella

You probably already know that Nutella is quite a big thing in Italy. On this occasion we arrived at about 4pm and clearly a few people had already suffered a Nutella emergency. Its available in a variety of sizes from single serving (quite tempted to get a few to keep in my handbag just in case) up to 1.5kg. You will note that the own brand version just doesn't seem to cut it. We should probably buy some and carry out a blind taste test, in the interests of science of course. Shame about the palm oil.

 

3. Fresh yeast

OK so this packaging is not inspiring, but bear with me, this stuff is the business. If you bake bread, make sure you bring some home, it costs about €0.15 for enough to make 4 loaves and is so much better than dried yeast. It keeps for a week or so in the fridge. You can occasionally find it in health food shops in the UK, or by sweet talking the supermarket in store bakery, but I digress. Anyway, it is usually hiding somewhere around the ready made pizza dough and pastry (which you should also take home in your hand luggage if you've got space).

 

4. Pure alcohol

This alarming looking concoction is not for cleaning, but if you want to make your own liqueurs (its ideal for Limoncello) or home bottled fruit. I suppose if you have a couple of fruit trees this would be win-win. You'll find it on the same shelf as the Scotch Whisky that costs about 50% less then it does in Scotland, because VAT or Brexit or something.

 

5. Whole frozen octopus

I'm not really sure about this. While I do love octopus, I haven't the first clue what to do with a whole one that size. Some stores have a frozen fish pick-n-mix section where you just fill a bag by weight and the fish isn't shrink wrapped. I find the massive box of suckery tentacles slightly alarming.

 

6. Unpasturised milk vending machine

If you are really lucky you will find one of these in the supermarket car park. I don't think you are actually supposed to drink this milk, it is for making cheeses at home. There is some sort of disclaimer that you should boil it before using but I suspect nobody does. Usually there are two machines next to each other, one sells sterilised glass jars, and the second dispenses milk into them. This one is styled as an incongruous alpine hut in a car park on a busy roundabout. I'm planning to make some Ricotta this week.

 

7. Vast selection of fresh fruit and vegetables and local cheeses and cured meats

It goes without saying that Italians take their food very seriously and particularly regional and seasonal specialities. The range and quality of what's on offer is always impressive and leads to most air freighted fruit and vegetables tasting of cardboard when we go back home (OK this last photo clearly wasn't taken in the supermarket, its our neighbour's front steps and represents about 10% of his apple collection. I'm wondering what on earth he's going to do with them all)

 

8. Anchovy flavoured toothpaste

Anchovy paste in tube

Obviously not actually toothpaste, and you can get this in the UK, it just costs 10x more. I add this to almost everything for a salty, umami kick. Just don't actually brush your teeth with it.

 

Bonus tip, this is the shelf of wine that comes in a Tetra-pak and costs under €1 per litre. This is one thing I'd recommend not buying

Dishoom Edinburgh review + giveaway

Dishoom Edinburgh review + giveaway

I'll start this post with a massive hurrah that with the arrival of Dishoom we can finally enjoy delicious Indian food in Edinburgh. Having opened four popular Bombay Irani-style cafés in London, they have now colonised Edinburgh with their winning mix of delicious food, cocktails, casual dining and retro interior. If you would like to try it for yourself, scroll down and subscribe to be in for a chance of winning breakfast at Dishoom.

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Restaurant review - Rib Aye Steakhouse and Whisky bar

Restaurant review - Rib Aye Steakhouse and Whisky bar

Away from the bright lights of the city centre you will find Edinburgh's newest steak restaurant, the wittily named Rib Aye, tucked away in a corner of Leith, the location belies the ambition of Chef Colin Hinds, whose focus is impeccably sourced Scottish beef and produce from small farms, along with a careful selection of whiskies and other drinks designed to bring out the best in the ingredients.

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