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La Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia 568 - 1797

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With the bank holidays now over, the sun has returned to the UK again. Everywhere, people are sitting outside the coffee shops, grazing on sharing-plates of cured meats and preserved fish and sipping on Aperol Spritz. I wonder if they realise how much of our modern lifestyle has its origins in the history of a tiny city at the head of the Adriatic. I love Venice. I love its art, its culture, its music. I love the cool of its churches, the shimmer of the light on the canals, the sounds of its busy squares and the silence of its streets at night. I even love the smell of the mud!  Nobody really knows where the Venetians came from. A quick look at any native will tell you they were most certainly not Italian: shorter, fairer and often with blue eyes. Whatever their origins, it is generally agreed that these first inhabitants settled in the dank, misty islands of the north Adriatic Lagoon around the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire. They are accepted to have been refugees, fleeing

Jubilating and Celebrating

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This weekend, the UK, along with several other Commonwealth countries, celebrates the Platinum Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen. By any stretch of the imagination, 70 years of service is something to marvel at, and many people will be celebrating with parties, trips to events and concerts, or simply having a tipple while they watch the TV footage of others celebrating. Although I'll be at work for three days of the holiday, a friend and I have arranged a celebratory luncheon on Sunday afternoon. Weather permitting, we'll enjoy cocktails in my friend's garden, before repairing indoors for delicious food, lovely wines and a snifter or two of port. The cocktail we've chosen to serve was actually created for a royal jubilee in Thailand, but we chose it for its lightness and freshness as much as its name. It mixes gin with elderflower liqueur, grapefruit and sparkling wine, and I'm hoping it'll be the perfect foil to my crab barquettes and truffled asparagus vol-au-v

Easy Bank-Holiday Brunches

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Nutritionists tell us that the first meal we have in a day is the most important. Personal trainers advocate a decent start to the day with slow-release, complex carbs, and I’ve known rugby coaches to say it’s the only meal at which professional players can eat whatever they want. In the working week, we tend to rely on the same simple things: cereals, fruit & yoghurt, toast. We might treat ourself to a bacon or sausage butty at the weekend. Bank holidays are special, though: it’s like getting an extra Saturday before we go back to work. It’s a time for treats, and with the Queen's jubilee coming up, we can have lots of them! I’m not a fan of Champagne breakfasts and Bloody Mary for brunch. I can’t see the appeal of alcohol so early in the day. I do, however, love traditional breakfast dishes: proper, old fashioned cooked dishes that bring out the Edwardian in me. I always order kippers at an hotel or treat myself to eggs benedict in a café. The problem with these dishes is tha

Home Hospitality

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The French writer J-A Brillat-Savarin once wrote that "to receive guests is to take charge of their happiness during the entire time they are under your roof." That’s quite a responsibility. I also think it’s a privilege. We “take charge” of someone’s happiness when they have trusted us with it. When my partner and I got together, we decided we wanted our home to be somewhere people felt able to show up uninvited, where they would always be welcome, regardless of the circumstances. It was a principle I was brought up with. Back in the days before phones in every home, when families couldn’t arrange a visit as easily as we do now, my Mum kept a stash of tinned ham and salmon in the back of the cupboard, ready to be turned into a sandwich supper at a moment’s notice should family or friends come round. I find myself doing the same now, with tins of pâté, jars of olives and bottles of wine. The foods have changed, but the principle’s the same. The thought of guests arriving unan

Easter Simnel

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We associate the simnel cake with Easter, and now is the best time to get one made, so it has time to mature. It's one of the highlights of my baking (and eating) year - a cake so loaded with my favourite ingredients that I could eat it morning, noon and night. Simnel cake wasn't always so strictly seasonal. True enough, it has always been seen as a cake for special occasions, but the practice of eating it at Easter has its origin in tax and rent regulations. The fourth Sunday in Lent was the day the local churches paid their dues to the "mother" church of their area, and the suffragan sees to their metropolitan see. That's a lot of money moving around, and it needed people to physically transport it. We didn't have BACS back then. The task was not entrusted to poor parish clergy, but to local landowners. Perhaps they thought the wealthy would be less tempted to help themselves. With the landowner (and usually his wife) away for the weekend, the servants were

Are You Being Ripped-Off?

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How much??? I've been meaning to write this for a while now. Unfortunately, the business of earning money sometimes gets in the way of the pleasures of writing, and what I need to say is a bit negative. I'll try to be as positive as possible. The fashion for cocktails took off during the period of Prohibition in the US. While organised criminals monopolised the supply of illegal hooch, wealthy Americans travelled to Europe, London in particular, in search of alcohol. Bringing with them a taste for mixed drinks, they triggered a book in cocktail creating in the higher-end London hotels and bars. Bar tenders like the two Harrys - MacElhone and Craddock - became superstars overnight. They established the canon of classic cocktails and popularised many drinks that are still served a century later. Turn to their published bar books for the definitive recipes for Pink Lady, Sweet Manhattan, French 75 and Rob Roy cocktails. One thing you notice about the old books is how strong the dr

No & Low Alcohol: it's all about choice

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Image: Everleaf Drinks When I first wrote about alcohol-free drinking in 2018, the range of drinks available was very limited. I updated that post a year later with some additional suggestions. The range of drinks now available is enormous, but you wouldn't know it from the bar of your local Punchspoons Pub Co., or in the aisles of  Waitbury's and Aldl. The most recent accurate figures for UK (ONS 2018) show that around 20% of adults do not drink alcohol at all. The figure is higher for the under-25s - 23%. You'd think, then, that one beer in every five would be an alcohol-free one, that pubs would carry more than one alcohol-free wine and that you could choose from several 'spirit' drinks. Smaller, craft breweries seem to be leading the way in the field of low-alcohol beer. Perhaps this is the reason you don't see many in the big chains. The breweries seem to be waking up to this challenge, and we have seen big companies like Guinness and Heineken launch 0% bre