Pass the port, don’t pass on it!

Lads, I’ve had a disturbing bit of news highlighted to me and I don’t really want to believe that it’s true, but apparently it is. Port sales, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, are down from eight million bottles to five million over the last decade. Sherry and vermouth are also down. This is not appropriate behaviour, chaps. I mean prosecco is all well and good, but we can’t leave types of booze behind just because they’re not trendy. Drinking is a serious business and you can’t sup gin with your cheese or swill your chilled martini glass out with a picpoul, can you? Look, we traditionally drink certain drinks at certain times of the year because we realised at some point in history that it was perfection. (Even my most hated cocktail negroni is the perfect drink for an al fresco bar in Italy in the summer.)

I have personally introduced many younger-than-me people to port and sherry. Even at university I was known to order a sherry at the student bar. This was always a useful order as the barperson (usually another student) would have no idea how much a ‘normal’ serving should be and would pour half the bottle of Harveys in a glass and hope for the best. More recently my port selections at Christmas have won over friends and family and some folks have now made it their own winter tipple.

I’m such a fan of port that I even have port cocktails in summer. As such, I was really pleased when Kopke Reserve Tawny got listed in Waitrose toward the end of last year. Kopke is the world’s oldest Port wine house, having been founded in 1638. Last year they sent me a fantastic selection of vintage port. A notable one was the 1978 Colheita priced at £89.95. To be honest though, I have seriously pedestrian tastes and I enjoyed the 2003 at £29.95 just as much as the older, more expensive vintage. I guess it’s just that you want to open something special for special occasions such as Christmas plus there are those with superior palates to mine who would completely relish the experience. I shared it with a friend who is younger than the vintage, which kind of tickled us a bit.

You can buy a good selection of Kopke vintages from Vintage Wine and Port if you don’t fancy what is stocked in supermarkets.

In recent years I’ve often been invited to vintage port tastings at my spiritual home, the cheesemongers Paxton & Whitfield. This is clearly because port and cheese is a spectacular combination. Classics such as fish and chips or beef and mustard are recognized by their perennial popularity. Now please don’t abandon port and cheese because of any misguided notion of it being fusty or old-fashioned – it is divine. This year Paxton & Whitfield sent me a lovely mature stilton that was paired with a Fonseca Guimaraens 1998 (£27.99 from Waitrose).

Another very honourable mention has to be made for Taylor’s. I love their 10 year old Tawny (£22 from most supermarkets or Majestic wines), but they also recently released a 1967 single harvest port as part of their 50 year old limited edition tawny ports. It is £175 per bottle and can be bought through UK agents, Mentzendorff & Co.

So you see, there is a port for every pocket and every taste. I want to see a recovery in sales next year or me and yous will be having words.

UPDATE: The brilliantly well-informed Sue Glasgow sent me a link to this story: https://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2017/01/port-sales-are-not-in-decline-says-fells-md/ – so premium port is bucking the trend of declining sales in the fortified sector. All is not lost, my bully boys – onward ho!

Blogging… Like A Boss

I begin most years with the bright-eyed enthusiasm of a labrador puppy on speed (or at least I imagine that’s correct; to be fair, I’ve never seen a dog on amphetamines). This year I’ve excelled even myself. I’ve begun bullet journalling. I’ve written out a list of 99 things I want me/us to do this year. I suspect I’m going to be seriously impossible to live with this year. I’ve already started getting up at 5am and making posh Ethiopian coffee for our morning beverage. In fact, it took a cricked neck to dampen my excitement down to more manageable levels… but I’m almost recovered from that.

They (whoever ‘they’ are) say that you should publicly declare your resolutions as you’re more likely to stick to them. I’m not entirely sure that’s true in my case, but I guess it might inspire others who have cleverly decided not to take the start of a new year as an exercise in doing everything right NOW. I’m not going to list all 99 of them here, but will give you a few with regards to this blog.

  1. Update the blog three times a week.
  2. Vlog once a fortnight.
  3. Attend more bloggsy events and hashtag the crap out of things. #imthere

Finally, I’m going to attempt to get the right apps to streamline and co-ordinate my social media. If you use the social media platforms below, please feel free to connect with me on there:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tan_OD
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tanod74/
Pinterest: https://uk.pinterest.com/odonnell1624/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/taniaodonnellauthor

See you in 2017

I had intended to do a series of boozy Christmas recommendation posts, but alas I have run out of time. This past week I got a rush job of work in and I’ve been headless chickening (it’s a verb, it is, honest). Also my husbae (a word I heard online and will now be using for ALL TIME… mainly because Gary freaked out that someone had thought up such an appalling portmanteau) is off being an international DJ in Le Mans this weekend so I’ve got to do all the present wrapping, Christmas cards, washing, packing for our holiday next week, cleaning and sobbing into mint-flavoured vodka by myself between now and when we fly. However, I will cover all those Christmassy products/ideas early next year with topical tie-ins so that it is all still mightily relevant.

I know we’re all agreed that 2016 has been appalling for politics, cool people dying and awful, awful wars. Most of my problems this year have seemed like paper cuts in comparison, however, I am also looking forward to next year as a cleansing turn of the wheel after this one. I don’t think we can have two terrible years in a row so I believe next year will be fabulous. I hope you and yours have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2017. Here’s a pic of me with a little donkey because, since it is The Dreadful 2016, I can’t find the one of me with a real reindeer (possibly my mac has decided to resume our 2015 war). Peaceful festive tidings y’all.

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My first vlog – eye mask reviewed

So I finally did my first vlog. The sound quality is so bad. Gary says I need a proper mic that gets rid of something beginning with ‘s’… a techy term that I don’t understand but basically that lispy sound that you can hear as I speak. I also shot way too much footage in the hope I could edit it down later. Almost 18 minutes that I then had to cut back to around 6.5 minutes, which is still too long, but hey ho. I also realised that doing something like putting on a serum-infused eye mask while vlogging will lead to serum in your eyes and on your keyboard and on your desk. Also, you’ll look like an idiot while you struggle with it so I’ll probably make future vlogs, erm, ‘dynamic’.

The ones I thankfully didn’t do ‘show and tell’ on are these face ones:

snow_algae-with-awardsBio-Cellulose Glacial Snow Algae & Hyaluronic Acid Facial Beauty Mask

Apparently Snow Algae is a hardy Alpine plant. The feel of the serum here is quite similar to the eye mask in the video above and it absorbed really fast; I’m not sure if that’s because my skin is so dry or if it is just down to that particular serum. My skin felt that sort of fresh-faced clammy moisturised that you get post-spa facial. I loved it. Really nice feel and the effects lasted for quite a bit as a couple of days later a family member commented on how even my skin tone was.

£7.90/ £38.50 for 5

eye2016-finalist1-600x600Timeless Truth are also responsible for the eye mask reviewed above.

Bio Cellulose Rejuvenating eye mask

£3.70/ £18 for 5

 

 

 

mask_02Gold Collagen Hydrogel Mask

This one is lovely. It uses what they call ‘second skin technology’ which basically means it follows the contours of your face. It feels cold to start with, but that’s quite refreshing, and then it melts into your face as the heat from your face affects it. The temptation to overly touch your skin is quite high so I sat on my hands. The results are just fantastic. At a £5 a week it is also surprisingly affordable. I may actually add this one to my regular beauty regime. (Ha! What beauty regime? A wash behind the ears is the extent of it, to be honest.)

£19.99 for four

Well, I’ve popped my vlogging cherry so let’s hope future vlogs are considerably better!

 

 

Caorunn’s Winter Serves

Just because today is the last day of November, and the weather wants you to be able to use your nipples as coat hangers, doesn’t mean you have to forsake your gin n’ tonic. No, my friend, I got your back. Put that mulled wine or mulled cider down for a moment, and check out these recipes from one of my favourite gins, Caorunn. These are gin n’ tonics that show that you can still have your preferred summer cocktail in chillier months. You’re welcome… you’re welcome.

caorunn-autumn-garden-gtCaorunn Autumn Garden G&T 

  • 1 part Caorunn Gin
  • 2 parts Premium Tonic Water

Stir the gin and tonic together in a hi-ball glass over ice (ignore the picture… what the hell, Caorunn, what the hell… hi-ball or go home). Garnish with finely cut rhubarb, apple julienne strips and a slice of ginger.

 

caorunn-winter-spices-gtCaorunn Winter G&T 

  • 50ml Caorunn Gin
  • 125ml Winter Tonic Water*

Stir together over ice and garnish with a red apple and a slice of clove-studded orange.

*To make winter tonic water, take a bottle of tonic and add one cinnamon stick, one star anise, 1/2 nutmeg grated and four peppercorns.

 

 

New: Skinny Prosecco Minis

selfridges-mini-skinny-prosecco-skinny-minis-gift-set-six-bottles-straws-30-4

I’ve been trying to cut down on my sugar intake, which is far harder for me than I thought it would be. Cutting out desserts and sugary snacks has been very easy since I don’t really have masses of those anyway, but the one area in which I always fall off the wagon is booze. The sugar content in wine can be quite high, depending on the wine – and not just for fortified wines. So I remember thinking the idea behind Skinny Champagne by Thomson & Scott was a good one. I’ll admit that I didn’t hold out high hopes because generally anything that says ‘skinny’ on the label tends to put my hackles up, but, boy, was I pleased to be proved wrong. It is delicious and stands up to many champagnes that I regularly drink. I’ve now pretty much made it my go-to champagne if I’m on a health tip although Billecart-Salmon remains my ‘devil-may-care’ favourite.

When the company launched a skinny prosecco, again exclusively at Selfridges, I was pleased to find it was also a great example of that wine. It only contains 7g of sugar per litre (around 50% of that found in more traditional versions) and just 67 calories per glass. It’s vegan and organic. At £17.99, it wasn’t prohibitive price-wise and I was quite happy to buy it when economising and not doing champagne.

However, there was a wee problem. When I open a bottle, I finish a bottle. I laughed when someone bought me a sparkling wine stopper thingy. Friends are so aware of this trait that I have actually been sent home on the train with the rest of the bottle with some foil over the top… (thanks, Poorna) so, even though the Skinny Prosecco is lighter in sugar and calories, excess is still achievable in the ordinary bottle size. This will no longer plague me!

The company has just launched Skinny Prosecco Minis at £6 a 20cl pop bottle or £30 for a case of six with branded straws. It’s a really elegant way to drink less, cut down on sugar and calories, and enjoy a really decadent, delicious wine. I’m very on board with this sort of moderation.

What Would Frida Do?

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The inimitable Frida who we should all imitate

I’ve been really unhappy since the US election. It’s all so scary and ugh. It gets hard to remember beauty, grace, happiness, art, creativity and colour when things are so politically bleak. However, one of my favourite designers reminded me in a very on-point way that while we humans are capable of terrible things, we’re also capable of the most wonderful things. Gudrun Sjoden‘s Christmas newsletter hit my inbox like a breath of fresh air and blew away all the awful thoughts with memories of magical moments. I don’t know if it was deliberate or not (sometimes these things are planned so far ahead), but it was fantastic that Gudrun chose Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist and fabulous role model, to represent the main inspiration for her Christmas shoot. After the awful things that horrific man has said about Mexicans, how apt to remind people that that jackass knows nothing about Mexican culture.

img_0558-1When I went to my friend Debs’s wedding to her lovely wife, Judith, I bought yellow roses to wear in my hair in celebration and why wouldn’t you wear them a la Frida? Alas I wore them too far back, but I’ll do better next time. I’m going to emulate Frida in these dark days and will wear flowers in my hair and bright colours and Mexican-inspired prints. It will be my stand against the evil in the world. A reminder that racism, misogny and homophobia are not the norm and that if they become neo-fascists, we’ll become neo-hippies. Peace and love.

I remember a friend telling me when I was last raving about Gudrun’s clothes that they were too expensive for her budget. Now I completely get being broke, having made being broke my baseline norm in life, and I have had to frequent the dodgy disposable clothes shops myself as otherwise I’d be naked. However, I now try very hard to save for an item from a company I trust and which shares my values. I think the #stopfundinghate campaign is brilliant because it highlights that what you spend your money on is a political decision. Let’s spend wisely and cleanly. My vote is for Gudrun. Below is a gallery of images from the designer’s Christmas collection.

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Gluten-free brunch

scharvitalitybreadOkay, so most of us are bummed about the US election and about Leonard Cohen dying so what to do with a problem like right now? Avocado. No, seriously, I think avocados are the answer to any ailment. I love those green pears of joy. Can you get avocado sweats?

I was grumbling to Gary about a scene in First Dates the other night. A lass on it asked what was gluten-free on the menu and they cut to the bloke’s face looking as if she were being a picky or faddy eater. That’s really not very fair. If you’re a coeliac then gluten affects you terribly and asking for a gluten-free alternative is not being a fusspot, but a medical necessity. I am not a coeliac, but I do find that gluten-free bread sits better with me. Not entirely sure why, but it does.

uk_wholesome-vitality-loaf_2016_300dpiSo I was pleased to try Schar’s new Wholesome Vitality Loaf (available from Tesco’s at £2.60 RRP). It’s made with quinoa, chestnut and sorghum and has sunflower seeds and linseeds in it for an extra fibre punch. It’s suitable for vegans too. I liked the nuttiness of it, but it does still have the post-eating mouthfeel that isn’t unpleasant but feels odd if you’re used to ordinary bread. I found the way around that was to slather it with avocado. While summer might be the time that avocado comes into its own, I need to have it all year round and this bout of naughty unseasonal eating is made better by the healthy bread I’m putting it on. I would recommend this one as some other gluten-free breads I’ve eaten taste like existential disappointment in baked goods form.

Slow Dating Book Out Now!

slow-dating-coverSo I haven’t self-published a book before (well, a tiny spell book but that wasn’t online very long and was only done to figure out how Amazon KDP works), but today is publication day on my first ever. I’m very excited about it.

The book is called Slow Dating: A Technophobe’s Quest for Love Offline and is about a year I spent (almost six years ago) doing all my dating offline. I got rid of my mobile phone and I deleted my social media in order to try and bring some relaxed civility back to dating. It is packed full of anecdotes and eccentricity. I hope you like it.

Here’s a link.