• Let the bells ring out! It’s our digging and swigging Christmas Gift Guide 2019!

    For the past few months we’ve been keeping our eyes out for booze and gardening gifts that we think might please YOU, our beloved reader(s). Here’s a collection of fine digging and swigging suggestions to inform your hasty, last minute purchases, each one a GUARANTEED sure-fire winner.
    Just make sure you keep checking this page as we’ll be updating it with more suggestions as Christmas looms upon us.

    Beer Me Now Christmas Box

    Beer Me Now, Christmas Beer Box

    Price £25
    Every year a there are new beers subscription services added to an already busy market place and we do our best to test them all. Among the most recent launches that has impressed is Beer Me Now, a regular service that provides a good mix of popular classic beers with less well known bottles and cans (along with a salty snack for munching action). The Beer Me Now team has also put together a one off box of goodies just for Christmas, so you or a mate can enjoy their selection of eight ace beers as a one-off purchase (which we reckon might be enough to tempt you to signing up when all the Christmas beers have gone).

    Available from Beer Me Now

    whisky Christmas gift

    The Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve

    Price £34.25
    If you’re hunting for a gift for a whisky fan but are not quite sure what they like then might we suggest this handsomely boxed bottle. It’s a classic Speyside whisky (everyone likes a classic Speyside) from one of the most popular Scottish distilleries, the Glenlivet. The whisky is named in honour of Glenlivet’s founder and is a smooth sipping delight, with some clean tasting floral and fruity notes and not a rough edge to be found. Perfect to ease away any Christmas chaos.

    Available from The Whisky Exchange

    Brew It Yourself Book

    Brew it Yourself

    For the ultimate digging and swigging gift there’s always our book, Brew it Yourself. It’s rammed full with ace booze recipes – from beers, ciders and wines to more curious cocktails and infusions, and a few Christmassy boozes to boot – many of them using home grown ingredients. And don’t just take our word for its goodness – take a look at the five star reviews on Amazon for authentic tales of boozy glee.

    Available from Amazon

     

     

    Somerset Cider Apple Poster

    And whilst we’re on an undignified, egotistic roll of self promotion, allow us to recommend this splendid apple poster, designed by Nick’s very own gnarled mouse-hand. It’s a typographic apple, beautifully constructed using the names of Somerset cider varieties. Ideal for bathrooms, sheds, kitchens and outhouses and just the ticket for covering up unsightly stains on walls.

    It costs a mere £10 (including postage) and you can buy it from our Etsy shop, right HERE.

    Fatty’s Organic Gin

    Price: £43.64
    Looking for a new groovy gin to gift (or guzzle)? Look no further – this Dulwich-born gin has been distilled with dill, the fish-loving, feathery-fronded herb. It’s a London Dry style with delicate herbal notes and was deemed tasty enough to grab gold at the 2018 Spirits Business Awards.As Claudio Ranieri would say: “dilly-ding, dilly-dong” (whatever the hell that means).

    Available from: Masters of Malt

     

    Stihl Retro T-shirt

    Price: £30
    Clad your beloved in one of these retro T-shirt from Stihl, our favourite German power tool peddler. Made from mottled grey cloth and sporting a groovy circular saw logo, it’ll cut a dash down both allotment and pub. We can confirm that the ‘medium’ will happily fit a short, bald, mis-shaped man pushing 50 years of age. Ja! Danke!

    Available from Stihl

     

    Drinks by the Dram Gin Baubles

    Price: £39.95 for a pack of six
    Deck the halls with boozy baubles, tra la la la la, la la la la. Each bauble contains a wax-sealed 30ml dram, filled with an exceptional expression. Hang them, admire them, drink them and embrace the festive spirit(s). Also available in whisky.

    Get them here

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  • Coventry pub crawl: five best pubs 25 years on…

    A lot can happen in a quarter of a century. 25 years ago, in 1993, England failed to qualify for the World Cup in the USA, Mr Blobby spent a few weeks at number one and the Maastricht Treaty came into force, formally establishing the European Union. And in that time the pub landscape has changed dramatically, with a recent report claiming that more 25% of UK pubs have closed since 2001.

    1993 is also the year that we both graduated from Coventry Polytechnic and last weekend we joined a small group of fellow ex-students to revisit our old stomping grounds. We’ve both fleetingly called in on the city on separate occasions since (once each, over ten years ago) but this was our first chance to explore those old pubs together since gleefully handing back our graduation gowns to the hire shop.

    When we left we didn’t realise quite how many pubs we would be bidding farewell to for good. Among them biker’s basement haunt The Godiva; Spon End favourites The Malt Shovel and The Black Horse; the rickety old Shakespeare on Spon Street; Gosford Street pub crawl destinations including The Golden Cup* and Hand & Heart; and stop off point on the way home, The Admiral Codrington.

    But despite these boozer bereavements there still seemed more than enough pubs for city of Coventry’s size, with some of our old favourites still in business and a large range of new establishments open to tempt the current younger generation in from streets. The youth appeal of these flashier new bars meant that many of the student-packed pubs of 25 years ago were now populated by people of our own age, meaning we weren’t required to scrap our way to the bars with the younger and fitter folk.

    Having visited many pubs over the course of the weekend we’ve picked out five that we think make for a great city pub crawl for anyone with a weekend to fill in Coventry.

    Old Windmill Spon Street

    Dried hops hanging from wooden beams in the Old Windmill

    The Old Windmill, Spon Street

    Some things never change. This was our favourite pub in 1993 and our favourite in 2018. It’s believed to be Coventry’s oldest, a 15th century inn situated on medieval Spon Street, close to the city centre, with wonky walls, stone floors, exposed beams and various barrooms and snugs to relax in. It was always busy with a very mixed clientele enjoying fine cask ales and the occasional cider** and that still seems to be the case today. A proper old pub with a long history that, thankfully, is still run as a proper pub, rather than the kind of toursity, food-focussed, pub-museum that too many other ancient inns turn into.

    We drank: Having visited the Old Windmill three times during our Coventry reunion we managed to get through all seven of the cask ales behind the bar. Classics Timothy Taylor Landlord and Theakstone’s Old Peculiar were in excellent condition and hardly bettered all weekend, while we also enjoyed Slater’s light and hoppy ‘1 Hop’ (the single hop being Goldings).

    Golden Cross pub Coventry

    The Golden Cross in Coventry’s city centre was our Friday night meeting spot

    The Golden Cross, Hay Lane

    Another medieval pub that was built in the 16th century, becoming a public house in the 17th century, situated round the corner from the abby. The upstairs bar was our Friday night meeting place and it was always heaving and had a great atmosphere and Ruddles beers behind the bar. It looked a bit run down when we last saw it over ten years ago but has recently been given a tasteful makeover, with glass panels and Farrow & Ball colours complimenting the wooden timbers and stained glass windows.

    We drank: The upstairs bar had a much more limited selection than downstairs so we opted for the house beer, brewed by the Caledonian Brewery. It was decent enough but not quite up to the high cask standards set elsewhere.

    Town Wall Tavern Coventry

    The Town Wall Tavern (interior seen in main photo) has separate doors for the main bars and the tiny Donkey Box

    The Town Wall Tavern, Bond Street

    For some reason we don’t remember visiting this pub in the 1990s. Tucked around the corner from the Belgrave Theatre, Nick had a pint here on his only other trip to the city and made sure it was on the itinerary for this weekend. It’s an outstanding pub, perhaps second only the the Old Windmill, with a narrow room on one side of the bar, a more expansive lounge-ish room on the other and ‘The Donkey Box’ in the middle. This room has claims on being the tiniest in the country with its own bar and the Donkey Box regular occupying it shared a few tales about it while we were there (it was named after being visited by a pantomime donkey from the theatre).

    We drank: Lots more decent cask ales to choose from here including Goff’s Cheltenham Gold and Purity’s Mad Goose, both light and fruity, perfectly suiting the mid-afternoon part of our day-long session.

    The Phoenix pub Coventry

    The Phoenix, better known to us as the Sir Colin Campbell

    The Phoenix, Gosford Street

    There are several other better Coventry pubs than The Phoenix, but it’s one we have a strong connection to and is the kind of place anyone can pop into at any time without feeling out of place. It was called the Sir Colin Campbell in our day (and the Parrot and Griffin long before then) and sat opposite our art college, beckoning us in for lunchtime halves and post-study sessions. It was also the kit sponsor of our football team. After we left it went through a chequered period, which included a major fire, before being reopened as The Phoenix – the symbol of Coventry University. Today it’s brightly lit with glitzy, modern pub ephemera and is full of TV screens, but it provided us with a relaxing distraction from the drizzle outside.

    We drank: There were five keg and five casks on offer, mostly fairly mainstream. Nick played it safe with a Camden Helles while Rich was pleased with his choice of Robinson’s Trooper.

    Twisted Barrel Ale tap room Coventry

    The Twisted Ale Brewery: a new tap room in a whole new part of town

    Twisted Barrel Brewery & Tap House, Fargo Village

    Lucky Coventry. In our there were no breweries to head to for a fresh pint. Now Coventry doesn’t have just any run-of-the-mill brewery, but one of our favourite contemporary outfits, Twisted Barrel Ales. Just off Far Gosford street, which is now lined with ghosts of pubs, lies an assortment of modern food, drink, creative and community focussed businesses that is collectively known as Fargo Village (Far Gosford. FarGo. Got it?). Having moved from smaller premises opposite, Twisted Barrel occupy a good sized space, with piles of kegs separating tables and benches from the brewing equipment, and a bar with 20 keg taps. So impressed were we with this new addition to the city’s drinking scene that we trekked across the city for our final drinks on both nights.

    We drank: We got through quite a range of our hosts beers with the tang of Detroit City Sour hitting the spot as well as anything all weekend. From further afield we enjoyed the rare experience of drinking Weihenstephaner’s Helles on tap which was fresh as a just baked loaf, crisp and thirst quenching – not a bad way to finish off a weekend of beer adventuring.

    +++++

    *We both played in a band that performed here to mix of student and grumpy regulars bemused by the kazoo solo during a wonky rendition of ‘Love me Tender’

    **Our band used to perform a song inspired by The Old Windmill and Dead Rat cider called “Last Night of the Rat”

     

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  • Tequila cocktail recipe: how to make The Paloma

    For our previous cocktail corner recipe we made a Margarita with Tequila’s smoky Mexican cousin Mezcal. Having surrendered its place last time round we think it only fair that Tequila gets a chance to show its cocktail credentials in our next recipe so we’re introducing you to one of the simplest cocktails going, The Paloma.

    What is a Paloma?

    The Paloma is a favourite of Mexican mixers that features just three key ingredients: Tequila, grapefruit soda and lime (sounds good already, huh?). The word ‘paloma’ is Spanish for ‘dove’ – we’d love to elaborate further on the origins of its name, and how the drink came about, but even Mr Google struggles to find a plausible, verified theory. What we do know is that it’s big in Mexico (you can even buy cans of Paloma) but less well thought of elsewhere in the world, certainly when compared to the Margarita, but we reckon it’s well worth the surrendering of some decent tequila.

    The ingredients

    With such few ingredients it’s worth getting good ones. For this, and other tequila cocktails, it’s more common to use a blanco or silver tequila, but we like to give it a bit more character by using one that has been barrel aged and have plumped for Patrón Añejo  (an Añejo tequila has been aged for a minimum of one year). It’s a bit pricier than basic blancos but it’s a popular choice among those fancier bars that make you dress up smart to enter* and we think is worth the investment – it’s a superb smooth sipping booze with notes of vanilla, oak and even a faint flicker of smoke that also goes down a treat neat.

    You’ll find some recipes that use combinations of grapefruit juice, soda and syrups but we’re sticking with the simplicity of grapefruit soda. Jarritos is the most popular brand in Mexico but we couldn’t find any in Somerset so went for Belvoir’s grapefruit presse instead. It’s nice and fizzy, not to sweet and full of grapefruit flavour – we don’t know what Jarritos tastes like but reckon this is a top notch replacement.

    paloma cocktail easy recipe

    The Paloma recipe

    All you need to make a Paloma is to mix one part of tequila (say 50ml) with three parts of grapefruit soda (150ml), pour into a highball glass filled with ice, and garnish with a wedge of lime. For a bit of extra zestiness you could give the lime wedge a little squeeze first. And if you like a salty rim then by all means dip the glass in sea salt before you begin, but we think such frippery is unnecessary. Like most cocktails, this might sound like a summery drink, but we enjoyed our ray of pink Mexican sunshine on a miserably wet and stormy November evening and the zestiness was enough to give our spirits a lift while the oakier flavours of the Añejo gave it a more sophisticated depth that we think is more suited to the darker days of winter. Lovely Dovely.

    patron tequila cocktail ingredient

    *Bars we tend to avoid

     

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  • In pictures: The American Museum & Gardens

    It’s not often we get chance to mooch around a world class garden on our own doorstep, but our neighbours* at the American Museum & Gardens have just undergone a rather swish garden facelift and recently invited us to come over for a gander. The garden has been designed by Washington DC-based landscape architects Oehme, van Sweden and is the group’s first European commission. Notable previous commissions of theirs include The Garden of Contrast at Cornerstone Sonoma, The Native Plant Garden at the New York Botanical Garden and the Chicago Botanical Garden, all of which are characterised by bold, naturalistic swathes of grasses and perennials. Check out OvS’s rather impressive portfolio, here.

    The 30 acres of undulating landscape that surround the American Museum still house the remnants of the old Italianate style manorial pleasure gardens, which dates from the 1820’s. Since the museum’s opening in 1961, the landscape has been dug, prodded and sculpted into its current form which features a replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Garden, an arboretum of American trees and a natural amphitheatre.

    OvS’s design for the New American Garden takes inspiration from Monticello’s Winding Walk, and is designed to link the Manor House and the existing Mount Vernon Garden and to provide accessible routes to facilities across the museums hillside location.**

    Here’s a few pics from our visit. Please excuse the slate grey skies and raindrops on the lens – for our visit, the weather was more akin to Weston-Super-Mare than West Virginia.

    Views towards the Manor House, from the East Lawn. Over 12,00 new plants were used in the scheme. They include large swathes of Agastache, Dahlia, Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’ (mixed with Eryngium agavifolium) and Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’.


     

     

    The Mount Vernon garden. There are plans afoot to create a new vegetable bed to include heritage varieties of potatoes, beans and asparagus. To prepare the bed and to help break up the soil, over 140 ‘Jack o lantern’ pumpkins have been planted. Also note the (out of focus) eighteenth century octagonal seed house. Recently renovated, it sports a cedar shingle roof and wooden cladding which has been made to look like stone – a process George Washington referred to as ‘rustification’.

     


    Bath’s American Museum & Gardens was first opened to the public 1961, and is the only museum outside the United States to showcase the decorative arts of America. Its permanent collection includes more than 200 historic American quilts, Shaker furniture, Native American artefacts and a huge collection of American folk art.

    americanmuseum.org

    Christmas opening times are:
    22 November – 16 December
    Tuesday to Sunday 11am – 4pm
    Closed on Mondays.

    Prices for admission to the Museum, gardens and exhibitions are as follows:

    Adults £14.00 (with gift aid) £12.50 (without gift aid)
    Over 60s & Students £12.50 (with gift aid) £11.00 (without gift aid)
    Children (5-18yrs) £8.50 (with gift aid) £7.00 (without gift aid)
    Family ticket * £36.50 (with gift aid) £32.00 (without gift aid)

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    * The American Museum lies just a stone’s throw from our allotment. We could probably hurl a Yarlington Mill apple through their conservatory window if we tried hard enough. On a windy day we can smell the Yankee Candles they flog in the gift shop.

    ** As you sashay through the gardens, look out for the bronze busts of key figures in American history, sculpted by Angela Conner. Rumour has it they’ve reserved a spot for President Trump’s bust at the back of the house, down near the bins.

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  • How to make leaf mould

    Autumn has arrived and the trees surrounding our allotment are busy littering our neglected veggie beds and adjoining pathways with their crispy detritus. It’s a tidy-up task we rarely relish, but having recently conducted both rake and brush product reviews for the Indy Best, and currently testing Stihl’s new cordless Kombi engine (complete with leaf blower attachment), we are properly tooled up to conquer this annual leafy intrusion.

    First we’ll herd the pesky leaves into a huge pile, from which we’ll make some nutritious, humus rich compost for next year’s plants.

    It’s easy! Here’s how to make it…

    How to make leaf mould

    Step 1: Gather
    First off, sweep, rake or blow your leaves into a large pile.*

    Step 2: Bag
    Stuff your gathered leaves into a large bin bag (or bags).

    Step 3: Water
    Give the bag of leaves a soaking from your trustiest watering can, prod some holes in the sides of the bag, then tie the bag shut to stop leaves jumping out and running away.

    Step 4: Wait
    Leave your leafy bags in an out-of-the way place in your garden and WAIT. Your leaves will rot down into a rich, crumbly mixture – a process which will take around 12-18 months. To speed things up a little, run the leaves over with a mower before bagging and you’ll be flinging lovely leaf mould around within 6-8 months.

    If you can’t bear the wait, you can always use your collected leaves as a garden mulch. Give them a good soaking to help weigh them down and pack them around your plants to keep them warm overwinter whilst discouraging weeds to join the battle for soil space.

    For the even lazier, just let your pile of leaves be. A decent pile of leaves in an out-of-the-way place will be much appreciated by garden wildlife, acting as an insect larder and a warm place to kip during the cold winter nights.

    Our brush of choice is the Bulldozer, which we** recently rated as ‘number one’ in our Indy Best brush roundup. Ours was kindly supplied by Bentley Tools, and is available to buy here…

    https://www.buydirect4u.co.uk/product/garden-outdoor/garden-outdoor-garden-tools/bentley-garden-bulldozer-yard-broom/

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    * Be wary of drive-by dog attacks.

    **I say ‘we’ but mean ‘me’. When Nick divvied up the last round of Indy Best reviews to write, he suspiciously pulled out ‘Best Beer Hampers’ and ‘Best Tequilas and Mezcals’. I got brooms and rakes…

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  • Cider(s) of the Week: Crafty Nectar No.7 & No.8

    Having recently attended Bristol’s harbour-side Craft Beer Festival with its incredible array of tasty boozes, we were dismayed to find a severe lack of quality ciders on offer. Admittedly it was – after all – a craft beer fest so this kind of over-sight was not entirely unexpected, but it did make us sad and ponder how underserved (literally) cider is at these such events. We wandered over to the banks of the Avon (with amazing craft beers in hand) and looked longingly across to the opposite shore where the Bristol Cider shop lies, and dreamt of the juicy treats within. The sadness didn’t last – maybe a couple of minutes tops – and we were soon assaulting (not literally) the bar in a quest for more tasty beer. It did however spark our apple-y appetite to reacquaint ourselves with some nice ciders, and the following day we pledged to do so – as soon as our crushing, hoppy hangovers had receded sufficiently.

    As luck would have it, a brace of ciders arrived in the post the following week. The bottles hailed from Crafty Nectar – cider box distributors, apple aficionados and recent sponsors of standing stone blasphemy – who have been busy putting their considerable cider knowledge into good use and producing their own special range of ciders.

    Packaging-wise, Crafty Nectar have shunned the traditional farm-house style often spied on cider packaging (tractors, horses, hoary old farmers etc.) and gone for modern, jazzy labels in the craft beer style. Closer inspection of No. 7 revealed the background pattern to be made of rhinoceros* shapes, whilst naughty No. 8 appears to be clad in a coat of drooping breasts**. Pondering the significance of this incongruous imagery, the cap was popped on the rhinoceros cider and contents poured into a willing glass.

    Initial sips revealed a clean tasting, lightly carbonated cider with a lemon sherbet nose. It’s quite fruity, with traces of pineapple. Yarlington Mill and Dabinett are the apples name checked on the bottle. There’s a slight bitterness from the Dabinett but we didn’t get too much of a hit from the Yarlies which, in our experience, can be quite dominant. Rhinoceros cider No.7 is a good ‘un – not too ‘farmhouse’ so to scare off first time worshipers at the chapel of apple, but still packing plenty of flavour to keep cider aficionados interested.

    Next up, droopy breast No.8 which, controversially, contains rhubarb. Now mention to a traditional cider-maker that you’ve made a cider and blended it with something other than apples and there’s a good chance you’ll be on the end of a sound thrashing from a panking pole.***  Adding alien ingredients is considered a crime against the apple amongst many members of the cider-making community. And thanks to certain sickly sweet abominations that lurk on the supermarket shelves, it often is.****

    No.8,  however, is how it should be done. It’s cloudier than No.7, and comes in an amber bottle – presumably to help retain its pleasantly pink hue. On first sip, you get a tart taste of rhubarb, which builds the more you glug. A heavy handed cider maker could easily have tip the scales in favour of the rhubarb, but this blend harmonises beautifully and gives the cider an extra acidic twang. It’s a lovely balanced, refreshing cider – our only gripe being that the craft-friendly 330ml bottle left us wanting more. Great work, Crafty! We’re looking forward to  your next apple-y offering. *****

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    Get yours here…

    Cider Bottle Shop


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    *Rhinoceroces? Rhinocerice?

    ** It’s a design thing.

    *** A large pole used to dislodge apples from apple trees.

    ****KOPPARBERG

    ***** And especially looking forward to being invited to the next Stonehenge disco event.*****

    ****** Massive hint

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  • What is a chiminea and how do I use one?

    Last month I received an email from online retailers chimineashop.co.uk asking if I would like to review a Gardeco Toledo Cast Iron Chiminea. Recent review requests had either been too poor to feature on our site* or too inappropriate** but a chiminea sounded like an ideal piece of kit for our digging and swigging remit.

    I’ve always fancied having a go on a chiminea to see how effective they are, but have never got round to trying one. Rich, however, is something of an expert having written about the subject for the Independent – an article that included the Extra Large version of the Large model that chimineashop.co.uk were offering up for review.

    The Gardeco Toledo Cast Iron Chiminea arrived a week later, a heavy square box that clearly meant some self-assembly was required, but this task had to wait for the duration of a holiday and a few weekends of autumnal rain. Eventually an unseasonably warm Sunday came my way and chiminea construction and testing began.

    Initially the instructions looked too sparse for the amount of nuts and bolts laid out on my carpet (they recommend building on a soft, flat surface to avoid damage before transporting outside) but when assembly began I soon realised there’s very little that can go wrong: it’s very obvious where each bit fits. Despite the relative simplicity of construction it still took a little over an hour to fix it all together, with most of the time taken by tightening nuts in increasingly hard to reach places. Only one minor cuss was emitted during a slightly awkward left handed spanner (provided) manoeuvre.

    chiminea construction

    What is a chiminea?

    Before describing how well it performed it’s probably worth briefly explaining what chimineas are. Originally they were a Mexican cooking oven, designed for heating up all sorts of Mexican nosh within the house***, but more recently they’ve been adapted to become a device to provide outdoor heating in the chilly British climate, with the option of cooking being an extra on some models (including the one I was about to test).

    They work very much like the living room stove, with a large belly that contains the fire, lit on a grate above the base, and attached to a chimney that funnels the smoke northwards. Vents near the base allow air to flow through the chiminea and can be used to control the intensity of the fire. Being made of cast iron, our chiminea gets extremely hot (proper gloves are recommended) meaning it retains heat long after the flames have died down.

    How did it perform?

    The instruction booklet recommends that no toddlers or pets are anywhere near the chiminea when it’s in use. I have both so waited for the former to be tucked up in bed before striking the match, by which time it was late and I had already eaten, so the handy pull-out cooking tray would have to be tested another time. However, the dark Autumnal evening provided the perfect opportunity to see how effective it was as a source of heat.

    The fire lit easily enough using the same firelighter and kindling method I use on the stove and there was ample room in its belly to get a good supply of wood loaded into it (you can also use charcoal as a fuel). Flames were roaring in no time and even from the initial knidling burn I could feel the heat. The Gardeco Toledo Cast Iron Chiminea is a solid, impressive structure that looks perfectly at home in the garden (in Rich’s piece he describes is having “a certain traction engine aesthetic”) and with a glowing red belly of fire it makes a great focal point to an evening outside, with the heat more than taking the chill out of the air.

    The chiminea now sits beneath its custom designed rain cover waiting for the next time I’m ready to stoke up the flames. I’m very much looking forward to cooking on it, so if anyone has any cooking suggestion then let me know and I’ll fire it up again.

    The Gardeco Toledo Cast Iron Chiminea can be found here

    cast iron chiminea photo

    *a sickly beer flavoured with elderflower syrup

    **the illustrated history of Inter Milan

    ***do not attempt to use one inside. Ever.

     

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  • How to make beetroot chutney

    Down on the plot, we’ve been busy battling an unwinnable war with the powdery mildew that has blighted our pumpkin patch. We’ve not really been paying attention to the Pablo beetroots that we shoved behind our somewhat out-of-control Jerusalem artichoke jungle, and after weeks of favourable weather, our purple Pablo pals have ballooned to the size of knobbly cricket balls. We usually coax our beets into making a magenta-hued wine, but this year we decided instead to pummel them into chutney. Not just any old chutney, mind…. our effort is fine and fiery thanks to a supporting cast of scotch bonnet and cheyenne chillies, freshly plucked from the bowels of our mini poly tunnel.

    Your sink will look like a crime scene, your family will hate the smell, but your cheese sarnies will never have tasted so good. Here’s how to make it…

    Ingredients (this will make approx 4 jars)

    1 kg beetroot, peeled and finely chopped
    1 tbsp ground ginger
    2 fat chillis
    2 onions
    500ml red wine vinegar. Or cider vinegar/malt vinegar if you fancy.
    2 cooking apples
    500g golden caster sugar
    2 tbs mustard seed

    Method

    1. Lob the ingredients into a large cooking pot, put on the lid and bring to a simmer.
    2. Cook for 45 minutes, removing the lid for the last 10 minutes to help thicken your chutney.
    3. Prepare your jam jars by sterilising them. You can do this by either (a) bunging them in a dishwasher at the highest temperature setting. (b) Wash the jars in soapy water, then place them in an over at 140 ºC/210 ºF/Gas Mark 1 for 15-20 minutes. Or (c) use a sterilising solution such as VWP.
    4. Spoon your champion chutney into the jars and if you can resist temptation, allow to mature in a cool cupboard for a month.

     

     

    For those wanting a less spicy, ginger-heavy chutney*, try Nick’s effort, here.

    * And in many ways, an inferior chutney.

     

     

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  • A guide to types of sherry (and how to drink them)

    We haven’t previously featured much information on sherry. The only times it tends to get mentioned are either when we’re enjoying a whisky that has been aged in sherry casks or if one of our home made wines has turned out stronger than expected, giving it a boozier sherry-like flavour.

    For sherry novices like us, choosing what type to buy isn’t obvious, so we’ve teamed up with sone of Spain’s oldest producers, Bodegas Barón, to find out more about each style and what to drink them with. They own three Albariza vineyards, totalling about 140 ha. in the area surrounding their base in Sanluca, and their portfolio has three levels – Micaela, Xixarito and Soluqua – which refer to the varying lengths of time the sherries have been aged.

    What is Sherry?

    Sherry is a fortified white wine made from grapes grown near the city of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia (the word ‘sherry’ is simply a re-spelling of Jerez for English folk who couldn’t get their chops around the Spanish accent) and there are various styles depending on factors such as the wine’s sweetness, how long the sherry is aged, and levels of oxidisation.

    What are the types of sherry available?

    To give you a guide to the different sherry styles, and how best to drink them, we’ve picked out some of the main types as outlined below…

    Fino

    These light sherries are the driest available and tend to have around 15% to 17% alcohol by volume. They’re aged in a ‘Solera’ (ageing barrel) and are covered by a ‘flor’ (layer of yeast) which prevents oxidisation. They’ll have an almond aroma and a slight acidic bite to the dryness.

    How to drink Fino: Serve chilled and enjoy with salty food. Great for a tapas starter of salty meats or nuts.

    Manzanilla

    A Manzanilla is very similar to a Fino sherry in production but is made on coastal regions (Fino sherries are produced inland). It has a similar dry snap to it and most experts will claim the sea air gives it an even lighter feel.

    How to drink Manzanilla: Another chilled serving with salty tapas accompaniments is best and, given its place of production, seafood is its ideal partner.

    Amontillado

    To make this sherry the protective Flor used for Fino sherries is allowed to naturally break up, exposing the booze to the air and causing oxidisation. This results in a dry sherry with a darker tone and some earthier, nuttier notes coming through to the palette.

    How to drink Amontillado: This only needs to be lightly chilled and is great with more flavoursome tapas and main course dishes such as chorizo or grilled fish.

    Palo Cortado

    This is an unusual sherry that you won’t find too readily owing to the seemingly random ageing process it goes through. It starts out the same way as an Amontillado (with a flor that breaks up) but by some mysterious kind of Spanish magic it develops a darker, reddish hue and richer, buttery flavours (similar to an Oloroso).

    How to drink Palo Cortado: It’s another dry sherry so can be served in a similar way to Amontillados but we think its special production calls for a special kind of foodstuff: pork scratchings.

    Oloroso

    These dark sherries are made from a wide range of grapes and can therefore come in a wide range of styles, from sweet to dry. The protective flor is intentionally broken up during ageing which gives them their richer colour and more intense toffee flavours. They’ll also be stronger, fortified to over 18%.

    How to drink Oloroso: Lightly chill and serve with bolder flavours for leisurely supping. A good Spanish cheese such as manchego is hard to beat.

    Pedro Ximénez

    This sherry is made from Pedro Ximénez grapes, a sweet variety that is allowed to dry in the sun before fermentation. It tends to have a lower alcohol content to other sherries, a dessert wine sweetness and syruppy texture, with lots of rich fruit and molasses flavours.

    How to drink Pedro Ximénez: As with dessert wines this is to be served lightly chilled and either enjoyed as the last course of a meal (especially if you’re skipping dessert) or with a not-too-sweet pudding.

    Sweet Sherries and Cream Sherries

    These categories are sherries that have been sweetened. Anything simply labelled as a ‘Sweet Sherry’ is likely to be a sherry sweetened with Pedro Ximénez grape juice whereas a Cream Sherry is sweetened with the Pedro Ximénez sherry. Confused? Don’t be – just see them as richly flavoured, sweet sherries and get on with enjoying them.

    How to drink Sweet and Cream Sherries: These are the sherries to drink with dessert. Drizzle over ice cream, guzzle with a slice of cheesecake or sup with some custard creams on your granny’s sofa on a Sunday afternoon. Delicious.

    Oloroso sherry paired with cheese

    Bodegas Baron sherry is available from leading Spanish restaurants such as Bar 44 which provide the perfect setting for sherry novices to discover more about the various styles and food pairings.

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  • It’s the Ryder Cup Drinking Game!

    Rejoice! Posh retailer Marks & Spencer has added some exclusive beer imports to its already impressive range. This is especially good news for Nick because M&S is his closest supermarket meaning minimal walking for maximum beer pleasure.

    This new range includes the likes of American outfits Ska Brewing, Six Points and Hardywood, Norway’s Aegir and Amundsen Bryggeri, along with four beers from one of our favourite ever breweries, Danish experimenters Mikeller.

    Rejoice again! It’s Ryder Cup weekend. One of the greatest sporting occasions pits Europe’s golfing elite against America’s finest club swingers and we’ll* be glued to the radio and telly for three days, immersed in the tension with a few beers to see us through.

    And if you think this is beginning to sound like we’ve got a daft drinking game lined up for the sporting entertainment then you wouldn’t be wrong…

    Our Ryder Cup Drinking Game: The Rules

    Here’s how it goes. Pick one beer to represent Europe (we’ve opted for Mikeller’s IPA ‘Hair in the mailbox’ in honour of Europe’s captain, Thomas Bjørn, who is also Danish) and one beer to represent America (M&S has been raided for Ska Brewing’s IPA Modus Hoperandi). Then all you need to do is take a swig of the relevant beer when one of these events happens…

    • A player hits a duff shot which the commentator blames on the unique Ryder Cup tension
    • A player hits an outstanding shot which the commentator puts down to the unique atmosphere of the Ryder Cup
    • A player is seen whispering to his playing partner behind a cupped hand
    • A player spins his putter in the air in frustration at missing a putt
    • A player picks a ball out of the hole and does one of those fist-to-fist celebrations with his caddy
    • A player removes his cap before shaking his opponents hand
    • The cameraman pans to a shot of the players wives and girlfriends

    Easy, huh?

    Now load up on beer, enjoy the golf, don’t get too carried away with the booze and, most importantly… EUROPE: GET IN THE HOLE.

    *Maybe not ‘we’. Rich doesn’t much go in for golf. But if there’s beer drinking to be had then he might change his mind…

    M&S cans of beer

    Some of the new beers on sale at M&S. A Ryder Cup fan’s beery dreams…

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    The post It’s the Ryder Cup Drinking Game! appeared first on Two Thirsty Gardeners.


    Source: Two Thirsty Gardeners

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