I am still dreaming of a white Christmas… just like the ones in all those feel-good movies and devastatingly catchy Christmas tunes. I can imagine the scenes now; everyone is dressed in their best Fairisle jumpers, looking all smug and cosy, there is always a roaring fire, and smiles all round from those Baileys-spiked hot chocolates… and all the while, the snow falls gently outside. Oh Santa, now that is the Christmas of my dreams! It is the Christmas I once foolishly thought I would be having when I moved to the Northern hemisphere, but here we are… three Christmases in London later and not a single snowflake has fallen in my presence!
So this year, to save me from tears, I decided to take matters into my own hands and improvise with a little help from Harrods, who might as well be the next best thing after Santa anyway! Harrods still couldn’t make it snow but they did manage to shower the UN Ballroom at the Four Seasons Ten Trinity Square with so much festive spirit that even the biggest grinch could be converted. Needless to say, I was giggly with glee as soon as I walked in and saw the opulence and flair that I would expect from a Harrods Christmas!
I recently spent an afternoon eating my way through course after course dedicated solely to showcasing the magic of a certain Italian cheese and vinegar. Both are well-loved and often used in all sorts of dishes, but rarely as the main event. The more I ate, the fuller I became… full of delicious food and full of enthusiasm for these two ingredients. So much so that by the end of lunch I had vowed to use my Parmigiano Reggiano and Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Modena with the respect they deserved, and that did not mean a little sprinkle over pasta or drizzle over salad. My intentions were pure, but it turned out that my devotion was not and a few weeks later, I found myself sprinkling and drizzling as I had always done.
So it seemed like fate when Consorzio Parmigiano Reggiano told me to don my apron for an evening where I could actually do what I vowed I would: cook a dish where Parmigiano Reggiano was the star, and not the supporting act. The prospect of having another opportunity to eat an obscene amount of cheese was enough to get me in the kitchen, but when I found out that the kitchen was the one and only Le Cordon Bleu London, I was deliriously excited. Many of my office daydreams involved trading in my convoluted project plans and business cases for days filled with mise en place and hours in front of the stove at this culinary institution.
These days, parmesan and balsamic vinegar are pretty much household staples, or at least for those in the cooking-show-watching households anyway. I’ll be the first to admit guilt; I’ve drizzled balsamic vinegar over rocket leaves which I’m not entirely sure I like eating, and dutifully grated parmesan over my pasta as if my Italian street cred depended on it. But of course, that would be exactly the thing not to do… I should instead be ditching these imposters and going back to their true Italian roots, I should be stocking my shelves with Parmigiano Reggiano PDO and Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Modena PDO. Bit of a mouthful, bit more expensive, but a little bit goes a lot further when you are using the real deal.
Both Parmigiano Reggiano PDO and Aceto Balsamico Traditionale di Modena PDO are probably victims of their own success; their increased popularity have driven a desire for increased accessibility and as a result the parmesans and bog standard balsamics of the world have flooded our supermarket shelves. But the traditional Italian producers are fighting back and re-educating consumers. I think the proof is in the tasting. I always thought the cheese and vinegar I picked up at the supermarket, while not the best on the market, was good enough… but I soon realised what a naïve view that was.
I challenge anyone to step into the hallowed oak walls of the Great Hall at The LaLit London and not let out an involuntary ‘oooh’ because this is a truly splendid space. The high ceilings and windows let light bounce around the room, the distinctive blue chandeliers add the requisite level of grandeur. Once the dining room of the boarding school, it seems fitting that this is now home to Baluchi, The Lalit London’s fine dining Indian restaurant. Although I suspect that is where the similarities end; I am sure the food served then is a million miles apart from the delightful Indian delicacies served now. A room like this could serve as the backdrop to any special meal, but on this particularly evening we were in for a real treat… but that’s what you expect when you’re here to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Indian Independence!
I know that for much of India and neighbouring Pakistan, the last seventy years may hold some bittersweet memories but many will now also agree it’s still a milestone worth toasting to. We certainly thought it was, and decided to raise our glasses to the occasion. The Indian-inspired cocktails served in the old Teacher’s Room were a fantastic way to ease our palates into the meal ahead. The delicate spice of my saffron gin martini to start was wonderful, but the Kashmir: Valley of Flowers with Earl Grey infused gin, lavender syrup and lime juice was definitely the cocktail of the day! With a drink in hand and the dulcet tones of the sitar floating through the room, it was hard not to get into a celebratory mood before moving back into the Great Hall for dinner.
For the most part (89.5% of the time, at a rough estimate) I would consider myself a fully-functioning, responsible adult. I do all the socially expected adult things like hold down a job which lets me pay my rent, drink too much some of the time, exercise too little all of the time… tick, tick, tick… I have this ‘adulting’ thing sorted. But what about that other 10.5%? Well that’s reserved for silliness, pure child-like silliness: the days when I eat ice cream all day long, the times when I laugh at jokes about bodily functions, the moments when I throw a tantrum for no particular reason. Basically it’s whenever I stop, take stock and remember that being an adult is hard work, and that we all need to unleash the child within us every once in a while… and my most recent flashback to my childhood was thanks to Brockmans Gin. And no, I wasn’t a gin-fiend as a minor, but I was a slide (helter skelter for you Brits) enthusiast.
When I found out that Brockmans Gin were hosting their latest ‘Press For Gin’ event at the AcelorMittal Orbit, both my inner child and outer adult were bubbling with excitement. I couldn’t believe my luck; I could partake in one of my childhood loves (who didn’t enjoy those playground slides when they were little?) and one of my adult loves (cocktails, obviously) in the same night! I was grinning from ear to ear as I made my way to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park but as I got closer and closer to the AcelorMittal Orbit, that grin faded just a little and the butterflies arrived… I’m not really scared of heights, but my god this thing was tall… I knew that this is the world’s highest, longest tunnel slide but it wasn’t until I was standing at the bottom that it really sunk in.
I remember my third birthday cake well; it was gigantic, covered in cream and chocolate, and in the shape of a number three. Looking back at the photos, I still chuckle when I see my then tiny three-year-old self being dwarfed by cake – stuff of dreams really! I always thought my parents went all out on my third birthday cake until I was invited to a third birthday party for Jenius Social, a cooking school and events space in Holloway, and discovered that they were having not one but three cakes, and each of them would be three-tiered. Yeah, that’s really going all out!
Like any good party, there were plenty of nibbles and prosecco, but as an incorrigible sweet tooth, I was most excited about turning up at a party with three cakes! However, before we got to eat cake, there was a catch – we had to decorate them first! Most of you will know that I like a bit of a challenge in the kitchen and needed to make up for the fact I failed miserably at spinning rotis recently so I threw myself into this challenge with enthusiasm. That’s not to say that I was actually any good… just keen. Thankfully for me, I didn’t have to create this cake masterpiece on my own; my team consisted of a Baking King and Instagram Food Styling Queen. So obviously they drew the short straw getting stuck with me.
The first time I tried matcha, I decided that the bitter taste wasn’t for me and I’d better off trying to absorb all those health benefits in cookie form. My second experience made me realise that I had made it all wrong the first time – less is more, and the whisking part is quite crucial. When left in the hands of a true tea expert, the results were far less grassy and gross than my attempts and I actually didn’t mind it. However it took a bartender, a delectable set of canapés, and a roof terrace to really convert me into a regular matcha consumer. Third time’s the charm, as they say.
Standing in the middle of the Teapigs Matcha on the Terrace at Harvey Nichols in the heart of Knightsbridge, there was absolutely no mistaking what we were here to sample and celebrate – matcha, matcha, matcha. We were welcomed to the terrace with a Matcha Rum Punch, a vibrant concoction with plenty of rum and pineapple, and quite obviously from the colour, a good heap of matcha too! A cool, refreshing cocktail was just what I needed after a long, muggy afternoon in the office, but I enjoyed it even more knowing I could perhaps claim that it was actually good for me too…