Monday, 20 December 2010

Jingle Bell Shop

Christmas is almost upon us. Five days to go and counting. I admit I am feeling not only decidedly festive, but also particularly smug. You see, I managed to get all of my Christmas shopping done over a week ago, bar a couple of last minute stocking fillers I picked up on Friday. And, lo and behold, it was a relatively stress-free experience. Relatively.
Okay, so I cheated a bit and did a lot of my shopping online. Of course this strategy has backfired somewhat. My last order from Amazon was placed over a week ago and I have three parcels that have yet to arrive, despite being dispatched at the beginning of last week. I wait for the postman to arrive with baited breath, praying that they turn up before I begin my pilgrimage Up North on the 23rd. Amazon assure me they are trying to get everyone’s orders to them before Christmas, but this does not relieve my anxiety, having previous experience of our local Royal Mail depot. Mmm.
Much more trustworthy, if a little time consuming, were the presents I made myself. I like to think my handicrafts will be received well. Last year my draught excluders seemed to be a hit, especially with my friend who ordered another one for her mother in law this year. I’m already thinking what I can make next year – especially as there is a chance I will be on the dole and money saving enterprises will be much more of a necessity. May be I could set up my own cottage industry to help ease the financial burden?
The weekend before last I did a double whammy. On Saturday I headed over to Greenwich Market for a couple of bits for my sister and cousin (I can’t say what in case they read this before the big day!) and picked up a few stocking fillers for my parents, too. On Sunday I ended up on Oxford Street , despite vowing that I would avoid it this year. My mum decided she wanted to see the Christmas lights in the West End and, in fairness, it wasn’t too hectic. We arrived nice and early, and although it did get a bit busy after lunch, we managed to get around all the shops what we wanted. Thank goodness for the huge Marks and Spencer’s at Marble Arch, that’s all I can say.
So, with a trip down Upper Street earlier this month getting me off the starting blocks and a last minute flurry in Oxfam seeing the last fair trade item ticked of my Christmas shopping list with a week to go, I think I did quite well. I now have a pile of parcels waiting to be carted off in a suitably large suitcase, minus a couple of packages I put in the post, which set me back almost as much as the cost of the gifts inside. And I have managed to spread the cost quite nicely over a couple of credit card bills (phew).
So yes, I am quite proud of myself. I just hope that I have hit the mark with the various gifts I have rustled up for my friends and family. Now all I have to do is wait and see what Santa brings me.
Merry Christmas!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Food for Thought

Today, I have no appetite. A rare state of affairs, but I appear to have picked up some kind of seasonal bug that has put me off my food. I have managed some Lucozade, two digestives and a couple of Pringles, but have yet to build myself up to a couple of slices of toast.
Although feeling all achy and feverish isn’t much fun, not eating much probably won’t do me any harm. You see it has been a rather foodie (and therefore calorie-ridden) kind of a week. From bargain basement noodles to a Ramsay recommendation, London has, as always, been able to offer me a range of culinary delights to suit any budget.
Soho can be a bit hit and miss when it comes to good nosh at a reasonable price, but I went to one of my favourite cheap and cheerful noodle bars on Thursday, Mr Taro’s on Old Compton Street. I had my usual Ramen, a huge bowl of noodle soup that has never failed to satisfy my hunger, and a cup of cleansing green tea. At just under £8 for the seafood option (chicken is about £7), you can’t go wrong. My veggie friend went for the meat free Bento Box, which at £12 looked to be enough food to keep you going for an entire week. For £3 we could have indulged in one of their unusual flavours of ice cream (ginger was particularly tempting) but didn’t quite have room. Darn it.
On Friday I went out to quite a different eatery, Fino’s on Charlotte Street. It took my fancy after seeing in on Gordo’s Best Restaurant, so Him Indoors treated me for a belated birthday present. It was pretty smart to say the least, but I have to say I would expect nothing less for that price! Don’t get me wrong, the food was lovely but the small plates were very small. We came to the conclusion that it was definitely only for special occasions and was probably a good 10-15% over-priced. Having said that our waitress was incredibly knowledgeable and personable, but the food was very slow to come out. However, the extensive cocktail menu (try the Dark and Stormy), cava by the glass (oh, go on then) and a range of Spanish wine and sherry kept us well lubricated. Food-wise, the squid with pancetta, chorizo and potato chips and black pudding tortilla were particularly nice, and the Turron (nougat) rounded off my meal nicely, washed down with a rather lovely dessert wine.
One of my mates from Derbyshire commented on London’s range of eateries when he came down last month. It is true, we are spoilt for choice down here, but, be warned, when you are in Central London a lot of places cash in on their location and over-charge tourists for sub-standard food. But you could do a lot worse than the above.
Bon Appétit.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Holidays are coming...

Today, it is my sister’s Birthday. Happy Birthday Big Sis! This is good, not just for my sister who gets to open lots of pressies and eat lots of yummy food. But it is good for the rest of my family too. Why? Because, my dear friends, in our household my sister’s birthday marks the beginning of the official Christmas Countdown. Never mind the opening of the first window on your Advent Calendar. As from today, I have permission to get festive.
I admit, however, that I have been getting into the Yuletide mood for a few days now. I think it all started when I realised I had finished all my college coursework and made a real start on my Christmas shopping (thank Santa for Amazon). Okay, so I still have quite a few bits to get, but I reckon another online flurry and a trip to Oxford Street (an inevitable evil made a lot more bearable because I will be going with Mama Berry) and I will have got my St Nicholas act under control and can, well, enjoy it.
Let’s face it, the snow has helped. Yes, it has been very unhelpful in general, but nothing says Christmas like a sprinkling of the white stuff and getting cosy with a mug of hot chocolate in your pyjamas. Then, on Saturday, Him Indoors took me to the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. Think a German market with plenty of Bratwurst, mulled wine, ice skating and a fun fair with a couple of pop-up Bavarian pubs thrown in for good measure. A perfect family day out for all, surely? Hell, I could have easily spent the day there despite the cold – shopping, fun, food and drink, all in the same place.
Then, yesterday, I was listening to the radio whilst catching up on my housework in a bid to clear the way for the Christmas decs when it happened: The First Christmas Song of the Year. Okay, so the shops have been playing various versions of Jingle Bells for weeks already, but the radio? A clear indicator that it is time to get Merry. Oh ho ho!
So I might have had my first Gingerbread Latte of the season a fortnight ago, and I admit that I started drinking mulled wine on my birthday last month. But, today it is official.
Bring on the Mince Pies.