Food & Drink: Make a foodie happy this Christmas

Emily Green doesn't give socks or aftershave. Her idea of a present is a bottle of real gin and some crystal to serve it in, shiny steel cutlery or a crisp and colourful cloth
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The Independent Online
Aftershave and appliances are all fine and good, but my idea of Christmas presents are to do with eating, drinking and cooking. Simple things, silly things, elegant things. Things like these:

For the drinker: I remember, faintly, preferring milk to gin. Nothing, in those days, beat the Christmas treat of slurping milk from a beaker through a peppermint candy cane. Should any five-to eight-year-old share this predilection, then there could be no better gift than the bright yellow, blue and green beakers from Habitat (pounds 2.50 each). And, of course, candy canes. These are widely available now, but special praise is due to a rare and long-time stockist: a west London delicatessen called Mr Christian's, where a box of 12 costs pounds 2.25.

For gin-drinkers, there is bar gin and there is real gin, the second of which is a perfect winter drink: viscous and redolent of juniper. Real gin is either Dutch and called jenever, or British and called Tanqueray (pounds 15.99 at branches of Wine Rack). In my experience, there are only two uses for real gin: to serve it ice-cold and neat in a frozen shot glass as an accompaniment to salted herring, or in a dry martini cocktail. In either case, store the bottle in the freezer.

My dream vessel for the consumption of gin is the graceful Dartington crystal martini glass (pounds 8.97 from David Mellor shops in London and at Hathersage, near Sheffield). At least 10 minutes before making the drinks, wet the glasses under the tap and freeze. To make two drinks, swill a capful of vermouth in a glass jug, add fresh ice (no freezer snow), six fluid ounces of Tanqueray and stir. Pour off drink, without ice, into the frosted glasses. The choice between a twist of lemon or an olive depends on how hungry you are.

For the design-conscious cook: Hopefully, no one sniggered at the above mention of David Mellor, by whom I mean the genteel 63-year-old designer of cutlery and kitchenware, not the shameless politician-turned-columnist (no relation). The Mr Mellor praised here has dedicated his career to designing and making cutlery and tirelessly championing the work of British craftsmen, be they pottery makers, forgers of cast-iron or wood carvers. His influence has been such that it is hard to imagine British kitchenware figuring in 20th-century design without him.

His first London shop opened in Sloane Square in 1969; however, he began as a Sheffield silversmith at the age of 11, and had designed his ''Pride'' cutlery by the age of 17. His simple ''Thrift'' pattern is now used throughout government institutions. His latest pattern for a knife, fork and spoon, in stainless steel with bright yellow, red and blue handles, is designed for children (pounds 15.95 for a set of three). They look cute all right, but there is logic, too: imagine eating peas with a 12in fork, and you will understand how children feel with adult-sized cutlery. Also good in the Mellor shops: jam-jar labels (pounds 1.19) and cookie cutters in shapes of angels, bells, half-moons and stars (64p each).

For the egg-lover, who prefers not to store farm-fresh eggs in the fridge, egg racks and baskets are back in the shops. To use these, do as the Irish in Co Cork do, and butter the eggs before storing them. This prevents evaporation of the white. The most egg-friendly kitchen department is undoubtedly to be found at Heal's in central London and Guildford, Surrey. At Tottenham Court Road, there is a limited supply of delightful wall-mounted, Italian-made egg racks (pounds 49.95) and both outlets have a full stock of handsome chicken-shaped wire baskets (pounds 16.95 to pounds 22.50).

Kitchenware buyers for John Lewis (also owner of Peter Jones) seem to rank rather far below their inventive lampshade specialists, but amid the dull gear one may find a very fine egg rack in a wooden cabinet with a handsomely distressed paint job: it rather resembles a wire-front cheese box (and costs pounds 35).

To lay the table for a leisurely egg breakfast, Habitat has placemats (pounds 2), napkins (pounds 1.50) and napkin rings (pounds 1.50) in a shade of yellow bright enough to cure a hangover.

For the fabric fetishist: You can call them tea towels, but dish cloths is a more dignified term for the starchy cotton or linen cloths that French waiters polish glasses with. Making them beautiful serves two purposes: it adds pleasure to cooking and cleaning, and allows them out of the kitchen. The handsomest cloths of all are sold at Heal's (those featured in these photographs come from there and cost between pounds 2.65 to pounds 2.95). These look very smart lining a bread basket. Entirely respectable selections may also be found in nationwide branches of Habitat and in Jerry's Home Store.

For the pizza lover: Peels - those flat wooden shovels. Long available throughout the US, 16 months ago new chain of kitchenware shops, Jerry's Home Store, opened up and brought them to the UK. No more hurling of floppy dough into a blazing oven; rather, the home baker can now slip it off the peel like a professional. Buy only the large ones (pounds 18.50 at Jerry's, pounds 17.95 at Habitat). When cleaning, never submerge them in water. Simply dust with flour before use, then brush with a hand-broom or dry cloth afterwards. Occasionally wipe with a damp cloth, dry and oil. Jerry's also stocks bakestones, useful for retaining heat to attain a good crust (pounds 19.95 and pounds 25). Or go to a local stone mason and have one cut to fit your oven.

For the spooky: Everyone knows an other-worldly type who perhaps has tarot cards in the bureau, a crystal ball in the window and an astrological chart to explain their every wacky trait. Provided one is sufficiently fond of these dabblers in the occult (or worried there might be something to all that guff), one could make them a gift of ''Astral'' - a set of four demi-tasses and saucers, which are suitably Merlin-esque in turquoise, gold and blue (from Habitat, pounds 35).

For the cellar or cupboard: The new-wave metal racks that make decorative features on the kitchen wall are kinder to the eye than the wine, which will suffer in the heat of the kitchen. For the same reason, racks with special wood stains seem pointless. Instead, buy a basic rack - John Lewis has a 12-bottle one for pounds 8.75; Habitat a collapsible one for fast drinkers for pounds 4.59 - and keep it in a cupboard or cellar.

For curry lovers: Smoking and grinding one's own spices for a curry makes all the difference. Madhur Jaffrey recommends home cooks buy a coffee grinder solely for the purpose. This is fine if you eat a lot of curry. For others, a mortar and pestle should be adequate. Peter Jones and John Lewis stock handsome marble ones (green pounds 15, white pounds 9.95, ceramic pounds 7.95). When using marble, keep it away from lemon juice, whose citric acid will react with the stone. Also resist using a detergent to clean it. Once you have made and decanted a spice paste, simply fill the mortar with water, which may then either be added to a cook pot or thrown away, and wipe it clean.

For storing and stirring: Most kitchenware sold in supermarkets is poor quality; however, branches of Sainsbury have old-fashioned ceramic coffee, tea and sugar holders (pounds 9.95 each). Good, too, are the recycled green glass spaghetti jars (pounds 4.65 each). As stocking fillers, few would scoff at a bundle of wooden spoons (99p).

Stockists: items mentioned from Habitat, Wine Rack and John Lewis are available from outlets nationwide.

Mr Christian's, 11 Elgin Crescent, London W11 (071-229 0501).

David Mellor, 4 Sloane Square, London SW1 (071-730 4259) and The Round Building, Hathersage, near Sheffield S30 1BA (0433 650220).

Heal's, 196 Tottenham Court Road, London W1 (071-636 1666) and Tunsgate, Guildford, Surrey GU1 3QU (0483 576715).

Jerry's Home Store, 163-167 Fulham Road (071-581 0909) and in the Bentall Centre in Kingston, Surrey (081-549 5393).

(Photographs omitted)

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