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Artistic Licence: Still Life paintings by Ian Mastin present a banquet of fruit, cheese, brandy and wine with classic style.

This most inspiring exhibition of Still Life paintings opened on Saturday 3rd April, 2021 at “Art on Cairncross”, Maleny, Queensland, Australia.

The good news is that the artwork is also now available as an online exhibition in the UK, through select galleries such as The Torrance Gallery, Ian Mastin’s exclusive agent in Edinburgh.

The concept of a physical exhibition in Australia accompanied simultaneously by the same exhibition online in the UK was not something I’d ever have considered pre-COVID – an experimental endeavour.”

Ian Mastin

Ian Mastin was born in England before his family later emigrated to Australia. With no formal training, he enjoyed sketching for recreation, and when living in Scotland for over a decade, he began to study artistic technique and styles, and is now a full time, professional artist, based in Queensland.

Known in French as Nature Morte, Still Life paintings are a stylised arrangement of objects on a table, such as fruit, flowers, glassware and textiles. 

It really is extraordinary to compare Mastin’s exceptional natural talent and skill with the 16th and 17th century Dutch and Flemish Masters. Their subjects ranged from flowers, human skulls and candles to depict Memento Mori, the fleeting nature of life, to simple breakfast dishes and lavish Baroque displays of fruit, wine goblets and books to illustrate culture and wealth.

A superb example is ‘Still Life with Cheese’ by Floris van Dyck, an elaborate feast of grapes, apples, nuts and wine.

Still Life with Cheese, Floris van Dyck (1615)

From this Golden Age, fast forward to see how these domestic scenes were modelled and modernised by such Impressionist artists as Cezanne, Gauguin, Manet, Van Gogh and Valadon. 

Bring a brioche, I want to see you paint one: Still Life is the touchstone of painting.” Edouard Manet.

Still Life with Brioche and lemon, Edourd Manet (1873)

Paul Cezanne seemed to be fascinated by orchard fruits especially apples of all shapes and sizes which were the star subject for numerous paintings.

Apples, Paul Cezanne, (1878)

” I am captivated by the deep roots of the past .. the relationship between inanimate objects and our origins .. a simple relic of some antiquity immediately stirs within a hunger to connect with its provenance.”

Ian Mastin

Let’s take a look around the ‘Artistic Licence’ exhibition of contemporary Still Life acrylic paintings:

Bread, Wine and Cheese, Ian Mastin

Bread, Wine and Cheese

You could be forgiven for assuming this softly lit composition was painted around 1620 …..not 2020.  Here the dark varnished, cracked old wooden table is set for a meal: the delicately, draped fold of a linen napkin, the glistening glass of white wine, a scatter of crumbly cheese and crusty bread, all finely crafted with such intimate precision.

Still Life with Pears and Grapes, Ian Mastin

Still Life with Pears and Grapes

It may appear a more simplified display, but this has exceptional photographic quality. Look at the surface of the splintered table, the purple-black skin of the grapes with sharp stalks and shapely pears with tiny nicks in the skin. All so aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Spoilt for Choice  

Following the recurring theme of Paul Cezanne, here too is a fine collection of crisp, shiny, polished apples – perhaps Gala, Granny Smith, McIntosh, Pink Lady et al. – in contrast to the gnarled timber grains of the table.

Spoilt for Choice, Ian Mastin

“I always love painting fruits and never tire of the subtleties and richness of their colours and textures. I’m also drawn to the bonhomie evoked by images of good wine and food. I never need much encouraging to go searching for a succulent cheese to complement a classic burgundy – used purely for artistic purposes, needless to say.”

Ian Mastin

Moulin des Carruades 1977, Ian Mastin

Moulin des Carruades 1977 

A meticulously detailed and most appetising Study of wine, bread and cheese as similarly depicted by the Dutch Masters. You could view this for hours and still find hidden facets in the tactile textures. First the dusty sheen on this vintage wine bottle, as if just retrieved from the cellar, the ripe, melting Camembert in greaseproof paper with freshly baked bread.  Note too, the hinged metal lock on this antique chest.

Moulin Des Carruades from Domaine Barons de Rothschild: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc – “Rich fruit, blackcurrant, tobacco, cedar, oak, well-balanced.”

Chateau d’Angluet Margaux,

Chateau d’Angluet Margaux

The wine estate, Château Angludet has belonged to the Sichel family for six generations so this represents a real sense of heritage: the dark green bottle with its intricately sketched label and the reflection of glinting sunlight. Uncorked, it’s ready to serve with grapes and slice of cheese. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, & Petit Verdot, this vintage 2006 Bordeaux is described as deep red with black tints, ripe and elegant.  

Age Before Beauty, Ian Mastin

Age Before Beauty

This may certainly appeal to those in Scotland and worldwide who relish a dram of these fine Single Malt Scotch Whiskies from the Speyside and Highland regions. The fisherman’s rod and basket create a dramatic setting, to illustrate a day out on the River Dee, Aberdeenshire or, indeed, Baroon Pocket Dam, Queensland. Slainte Mhath!

Still Life paintings provided the best opportunity for the pioneering 16th century artists to show off their painterly skills.

With artistic licence and photo-realism accuracy, as a modern master of the genre, Ian Mastin demonstrates such delicate beauty and classic style in these exquisite compositions. Whether a bowl of cherries, a carafe of port or a pile of antiquarian books, this is an artist with a dedicated passion for perfecting this iconic, timeless tradition.  

Artistic Licence – a showcase of Still Life paintings by Ian Mastin

3 – 25th April, 2021

Maleny, Queensland: Art on Cairncross’ – if you live locally, visit the gallery.

Edinburgh: available online at The Torrance Gallery

View the exhibition here:

https://www.torrancegallery.co.uk/ian-mastin-artistic-licence

Prices include P&P, insurance, tracked shipping and UK customs duty.
 

Browse the E-catalogue:

The Beautiful Planet Store @ the Biscuit Factory: local, ethical food, drink and home essentials for a zero waste, Brave New World.

In a world that is rightly concerned about climate change and the atmosphere, to be so neglectful of our oceans is deeply troubling. Having woken up to this living disaster… it’s not too late to turn things around.”

 Pawel Ferguson, The Beautiful Planet Company Scotland

Crawford’s Biscuits, vintage advertisement

The former 1940s Crawford’s Bakery just off Bonnington Road, Edinburgh has been transformed in recent years into the aptly named Biscuit Factory, a multi-functional Events venue and community hub for arts, lifestyle, food, drink and Edinburgh Gin businesses.

The Biscuit Factory – Events venue, Community cafe, bar, food & drink businesses

The concept is reminiscent of the historic manufacturing districts of downtown NYC, now transformed into fashionable galleries and nightclubs.  The pioneering spirit behind this was perhaps Andy Warhol’s Factory, 231 E. 47th St. on the fourth floor of the 1887 Cold Storage Warehouse, the studio for the creation of his iconic Pop Art from Marilyn to Campbell’s Soup.  

In similar vein, just launched on 27 March 2021, in a large warehouse space at the Biscuit Factory, is the innovative Beautiful Planet Store: quality food, drink and household essentials, based on a policy of less-waste – if not zero-waste, sustainable, ethical products. 

According to the Vegetarian Cities Index 2021, Edinburgh has the most vegetarian-friendly restaurants per population in the world, (followed by Munich and Ubud), based on affordability and availability, the price of fruit, vegetables and plant-based protein foods; take-away/home-delivery, (especially when restaurants were closed during the pandemic lockdown); Events and Festivals. (Link to Survey below*)

Pawel Ferguson follows a Vegan diet and is a keen cook, with a background in the hospitality and retail industries.  In collaboration and with great encouragement from his partner Peter Ferguson, The Beautiful Planet Store is a plastic and package-free, eco-friendly environment, with imaginative, entrepreneurial vision. 

Pawel and Peter Ferguson (with Daphne the dog!)

The attractive layout retains the shabby chic, industrial heritage with quirky style. Around the walls and island centre are long wooden tables made from old scaffolding planks. Instead of bright strip lighting from the high ceiling, strings of small, energy-saving bulbs are looped between the pillars.

Pawel and Peter work with local, Scottish and independent suppliers and producers to source all your favourite essential ingredients for the store cupboard – organic vegan/vegetarian food and drink for breakfast, lunch and supper. 

Let’s take a look around this enticing Store with its rows of huge glass jars and giant containers filled with flours, rice, gluten free Porridge oats, Muesli, nuts, seeds, colourful fragrant spices, as well as beans and pulses for cook up delicious soups, stews and curries.

As you will see in these images, everything is clearly labelled, handwritten in chalk with calligraphic artistry.

Purchase here or bring your own containers and bottles for grains, cereals and oils etc. and fill a traditional brown paper bag with nuts, seeds and Brazilian coffee beans.

Santu Coffee Beans, from Brazil – roasted at the Biscuit Factory

Santu coffee is actually roasted next door to the Beautiful Planet Store at the Biscuit Factory. All coffees are from Espirito Santo, Brazil, a mountainous region of protected Atlantic Forest, making it the most biodiverse place on earth. Having sampled Santu freshly ground coffee, it has a strong aroma with a mellow, smoky flavour.

A range of quality loose leaf and tea bags from the renowned Edinburgh company, Eteaket and also healthy drinks, organic soya, fruit juices and cordials.  Snacks too with a range of nuts and Just Crisps – Sea Salted Parsnip and Potato crisps, have a delicious, natural flavour – made by an independent farmer. 

Drinks, sauces, condiments and spicy foods galore

On open days at the Store, there might be Pear & Ginger Scones, Chocolate brownies, or other cakes on offer freshly baked by Pawel.  A selection of organic chocolate and vegan sweets available too. 

Stock up the bathroom with floral scented handmade soaps and cosmetics from Deeside Lavender, Aberdeenshire and for the kitchen, Bio Laundry liquids which are both kind to your clothes and the planet.

Handmade soaps and toiletries

Your doggy friends are also looked after with Pawel’s home-made, nutritious ‘Peanut butter and Sweet potato’ bone- shaped biscuits. Chewable toys too – Terry the Turnip has a suede covering filled with natural jute fibres, which is tough and long lasting. Shoppers can bring their dog to the store and leave in a cordoned off den, rather than leave, tied up, outside the Biscuit Factory. 

Home-made Peanut Butter dog biscuits

“We have not reinvented the wheel – just offer our own approach and style on the supply of zero waste shopping – online, by delivery or collection. Beautiful Planet offers a happy and welcoming shop and we cannot wait to meet all our customers.”

Pawel Ferguson

The philosophy behind this truly inspirational Store is all about creating a genuine artisan, rustic and Indy business, focussed on an eco-friendly, healthy lifestyle and protecting our beautiful, natural world.  

David Attenborough would, no doubt, be most impressed!

The Beautiful Planet Company Scotland,

Biscuit Factory, 4-6 Anderson Place, Edinburgh, EH6 5NP 

www.beautifulplanet.store 

Order on line for next day home delivery: Monday to Saturday – Farr Out Cargo Bicycles (radius, 5 km).

Farr Out Deliveries, Edinburgh, supports ethical local businesses and individuals to provide a responsible, sustainable bicycle courier service for the local community.

Farr Out Cargo Bicycle Couriers, Edinburgh

Click & Collect and Walk In shoppers: Store Opening Hours: Monday, Friday and Saturday 10am – 5pm

Email: info@beautifulplanet.store

Additional pop up Open Days will be announced regularly on social media:  Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/beautifulplanetstore   Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/beautifulplanetstore/

Photographs illustrating the Beautiful Planet Store by Fiona Dawson and Marta Zdrójkowska 

*The Vegetarian City Index 2021:

https://www.nestpick.com/vegetarian-cities-index/

Summertime at the Biscuit Factory

When hospitality venues can open up again soon, The Biscuit Factory will welcome visitors to a pop up café called the Biscuit Box serving goods made inhouse including Santu Coffee and The Bearded Baker, with cakes from Mrs Macs Bakery, Linlithgow. Cocktails and pop up street food outside, sharing platters and Gin garden from the Old Poison Bar – everything on offer produced within the community.

Enjoy a leisurely drink and good food at the Biscuit Factory – then visit the Beautiful Planet Store too!.

Château La Grâce Dieu des Prieurs: Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Art Russe – a unique story of art, architecture and wine-making = a modern masterpiece.

Chateau La Grâce Dieu Des Prieurs, Bordeaux

When the renowned chess player, businessman and philanthropist, Andrey Filatov became the owner of Château La Grâce Dieu Des Prieurs, his entrepreneurial vision was to combine a love of fine wine with his admiration of Russian Art.

Located between the medieval villages of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol in Bordeaux, the Estate was founded in 1885 within this ancient wine making region.  In December 1999, the Appellation was inscribed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO, as a “cultural landscape.”

Andrey Filatov acquired the 19th century ‘La Grâce Dieu des Prieurs’ in 2013, commissioning Jean Nouvel, the acclaimed French Architect (Le Louvre, Abu Dhabi; Cartier Foundation, Paris; New York’s 53W53 Tower, etc) to bring the estate into the 21st century.

The major refurbishment, between 2014 and 2017, had a simple objective – to respect the vineyard heritage whilst introducing modern, innovative production facilities.  Jean Nouvel created an architectural complex that is at once functional and a work of art in itself. 

The cylindrical exterior design represents a panorama of an allegorical fresco to illustrate the historic Château and vineyard Estate.  Inside are stainless steel fermentation and blending tanks and a series of wine cellars provides storage for all vintages simultaneously on the underground level.

‘Château La Grâce Dieu des Prieurs’ (Preserved by the Grace of God’s Priors), is an 8.5 hectare Estate, cultivating two red grape varieties, 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc, with one hectare allocated to Chardonnay white grapes

Successful wine making is a complex business, a blend of history, geography, viniculture, viticulture and economics. Saint-Émilion with its own microclimate can boast an exceptional terroir due to its fertile limestone, sand, clay and chalk soil producing the finest quality grape vines.

The green, fertile landscape of Saint-Émilion, Bordeaux

Grand Cru (French for ‘great growth’) is a regional wine classification that designates a vineyard known for its favourable reputation and is the highest classification of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) wines

At ‘Château La Grâce Dieu des Prieurs’, the Director of the Estate, Laurent Prosperi, works in collaboration with a team of experts including Louis Mitjavile, their Merlot specialist who is descended from a family of Bordeaux winemakers. His philosophy is centred around healthy vines, harvesting slightly over-mature grapes and slow ageing in 100% new, fine-grained, French oak barrels.

Andrey Filatov selected green glass bottles inspired by Russian Ancestral traditions with Amorim natural cork stoppers – the wide diameter shape of the bottles was in fact used 250 years ago in Saint-Émilion.

Vintage 2015

The Château has partnered with the Art Russe Foundation, the largest private collection of Russian Art of the 19th and 20th centuries, for the design of bespoke labels – a unique, cultural branding concept.  The images of twelve paintings have been chosen to illustrate each Vintage, covering the genres of religious icons, mythology, portraits and scenes of daily life.

Three of the paintings specially selected for the inaugural 2014 Vintage Collection are:

Nikolai Fechin, Daisies (1930)

With its colourful, Impressionist style, this is a superb Still Life of a vase brimming with delicate summer flowers.

Ilia Répine, Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom (1876)

This narrative painting represents an ancient legend about Sadko, a Novgorod merchant, who is forced to descend under the waves to pay his respects to the Sea Tsar.

Nicolas Roerich, And We Are Not Afraid (1922)

The encounter between two monks and a bear in the bleak winter landscape has a surreal, mystical atmosphere.

And so having researched the artistic theme, time to taste the wine.

Saint-Émilion, Grand Cru Art Russe – 2014 Vintage

90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Franc; harvested October 2014. Aged 21 months. Bottling date, May 2017.  33,000 bottles

Dark ruby red in colour; Ripe, perfumed berry fruit and floral aroma with notes of slightly smoky oak and vanilla.

While, at first apparently light on the palate, there is then an intensity of flavour – sweet, juicy plum, blackberry and apricot; the initial slightly dry texture mellows into a velvety smooth aftertaste.

Sipped slowly, there is also a subtle detection of soft warm spices, cinnamon and nutmeg with a hint of aromatic herbs.

Overall, a very well rounded, full bodied wine with a complex character; delicately refined yet richly expressive and a long lasting, lingering flavour. This is a gustatory wine tasting experience to be savoured at leisure.

Art Russe Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Vintage 2014

Since this first Grand Cru 2014, the Art Russe Collection now presents 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 vintages.

Inspired by the culture and gastronomic traditions of France and the artistic heritage of Russia, the unique concept of the Grand Cru Art Russe wines has received global recognition.  A wine sipping, art lover would surely be enticed to collect a full Vintage Collection of twelve beautifully designed bottles (or several vintages!), for a most distinctive Wine Bar gallery.

At the Château there is an undergroud gallery with the Grand Cru Collection of Art Russe paintings.

The Art Russe gallery at ‘Château La Grâce Dieu des Prieurs’

The Grand Cru Art Russe wines have been selected by many Michelin starred restaurants and luxury hotels of Paris, Courchevel and Cote d’Azur.  At Seta, Mandarin Oriental Milan, this is the only Bordeaux wine on By the Glass list.  The wines are also available at prestigious establishments in Monaco, London, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Russia. 

Cuvée Elena from Château La Grace Dieu des Prieurs

In 2020, the Château became the first wine estate in Saint-Emilion to produce a Chardonnay white wine, the result of a meticulous experimentation phase led by winemaker Louis Mitjavile and the team.  

The inaugural vintage has been produced in a limited edition of 1,300 magnums, handcrafted and decorated with a floral motif, produced by French glassmaker Waltersperger.

A refined, exquisite, gourmet white wine with intense aromatic notes and a rich structure on the palate”.

Laurent Prosperi, Director of the Domain

Tasting note for Cuvée Elena 2019:

‘An intriguing wine with aromas and flavours of caramel, baked apple, honeydew melon, apricot, toast and charred oak. The wine, while ripe in terms of fruit, doesn’t feature the buttery richness that can beset Chardonnay. A lingering, salty, smoky, fresh finish. Persistent, interesting and delicious, even in this youthful state.’

The individually, hand painted Magnum bottles for Cuvée Elena are not available for retail sale.  The 2019 and all subsequent vintages of Cuvée Elena will be donated to selected Auctions with the proceeds going to charitable foundations to assist children. In the UK, 10 magnums are to be offered for sale through the new luxury website Lymited.com for £1,300 each, with proceeds going to the Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The Global Chardonnay Masters 2020

Held annually by the European drinks trade publication The Drinks Business, this is a prestigious competition.  Chardonnay wines from more than 20 countries, including France, Italy, Spain, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa were judged in a blind tasting by Masters of Wine, Sommeliers and UK wine buyers.

Competing in the Premium Category, Cuvée Elena received the Gold medal for a Chardonnay Aged in Oak Barrels.

The Red Dot Award 2021

For more than 60 years as the largest global design competition, the Red Dot Award has recognised design trends and innovation. In March 2021, the jury selected the Cuvée Elena Magnum as the best in the Product Design category.

The Red Dot award-winning design for the Cuvée Elena bottle and box

The packaging case for Cuvée Elena is made from transparent acrylic, protecting the magnum in transit, and highlights the unique bottle shape and colour of the wine. Stylish, practical and high-quality, the attractive box can be used as a table setting or a decorative Objet d’Art.

Over the years, Red Dot Award winners in various categories have included, among others, Apple and Ferrari.  

Andrey Filatov is clearly a most innovative entrepreneur. This cultural collaboration across architecture, design, fine art and wine-making has preserved the heritage of the Château and created a modern masterpiece of gourmet taste and artistic vision.

Read all about the Château, Art Russe, Gallery, Wine Vintages and purchase options:

 https://lagracedieudesprieurs.com/en/

‘Negroni’ by David T Smith and Keli Rivers – cool, classic and contemporary cocktail recipes: tipples to tingle the tastebuds.

The most perfect, and rather addictive, Aperitivo – a classic Negroni is the very definition of balance, simplicity and Italian sophistication. 

The classic, much revered, Negroni

Essentially, in Italy between 6 – 8pm or so is Aperitivo time, the act of sipping a cocktail and perhaps a light snack, ‘to open’ and stimulate one’s stomach before a meal.  Campari is virtually the patron saint of Aperitivo, originally crafted in 1860 by Gaspare Campari in the town of Novara near Milan.  

The secret recipe is an alcoholic infusion of herbs, aromatic plants and fruit, with a complex bittersweet orange, cherry, clove, and cinnamon flavour. As a liqueur it can be served with soda water and renowned as the signature ingredient in many cocktails.

The origin of the iconic Negroni takes us back just over a century to 1919 and Caffe Casoni in Florence, Italy.  Count Camillo Negroni asked the bartender, Fosco Scarselli, to strengthen his favourite cocktail, Milan-Torino – (aka the Americano: Campari, Sweet Vermouth, Soda Water, served with a slice of lemon) – by replacing the soda water with Gin. Scarselli also added an orange garnish rather than lemon.

This elegant, richly bittersweet Aperitivo just hit the spot as an immediate success and soon everyone was visiting the bar for a ‘Negroni.’  Or should it have been named the Scarselli?

“ The bartender must change depending on the customer who is standing in front of him. He has to know and guess the flavour of the mood he should offer him…a sort of panacea against dark moods or reversals of fortunes.” Fosco Scarselli

The entrepreneurial Count Negroni quickly set up a drinks company to market a ready-made version of his creation, Antico Negroni, which is still produced today at the same distillery in Treviso, Italy.

Count Camille Negroni

After Ian Fleming toured Italy in 1958, he wrote a short story, Risico featuring 007.  In the Cocktail Bar at the Excelsior Hotel, Rome, James Bond, as for his Martini in Casino Royale, is most specific about his favourite Gin.

‘A Negroni. With Gordon’s, please. The waiter walked back to the bar. ‘Negroni. Uno. Gordon’s.’

Negroni cocktail – the perfect promotion by James Bond

Quickly and easily prepared with just three ingredients in equal measures, you don’t need professional ice shakers, tools and skills to stir up a Negroni at home,

The traditional Negroni has been creatively re-invented by bar tenders around the world and this slim 64 page, well illustrated book covers the one hundred year evolution through more than thirty recipes of diverse and distinctive cocktails.

The authors are certainly experts on the artistic styles of Gin.  David T. Smith has contributed features to Imbibe Magazine, Channel 4 television and chaired gin judging panels at the American Distilling Institute and Gin Masters competitions.  Keli Rivers has been a ‘ginnoisseur’ at San Francisco’s Whitechapel and the Sipsmith Brand Ambassador, USA.

With a short introduction, the chapters cover Classic, White, Experimental and Seasonal, offering an intriguing array of fruity concoctions, Whisky, Rum and Tequila versions as well as sparkling summertime tipples.

First, of course, The Classic – 25 ml measures of Beefeater Gin, Campari and Red Vermouth with an orange twist. (James Bond would not approve!).

The fact that the Negroni has an orange garnish, other citrus fruits such as grapefruit and lemon can jazz it up with a tart, tangy flavour. The Porch-Drinking Negroni has the addition of fresh strawberries and the fizz of Bitter Lemon for a long, refreshing, ice-cold drink.

Sunshine Negroni – a summer drink with Gordon’s Sicilian Lemon Gin

As a colourful twist to a Tequila Sunrise, the Sunshine Negroni blends the popular Gordon’s Sicilian Lemon Gin with Orange juice, Grapefruit soda, Aperol, Dry Vermouth – this sounds like a lip-smacking, thirst quencher.

The modern equivalent of a Purl, popular by workers in the 16th century, (Gin, Ale, sugar and spices), the Stout & Steadfast, adds 60 ml of Guinness to a Negroni recipe for rich punchy taste.

Having recently enjoyed tasting a range of Beaverton ales, their ‘Bloody ‘Ell’ IPA is dry, bitter with Blood Orange notes which could ring the changes of the Stout Negroni.

Topping up a Negroni with dry sparkling Cider is most inventive in a Run, Free & Naked cocktail, where the crisp, sweet apple freshness softens the bitter aftertaste of Campari.

Sloe Gin made from Blackthorn berries, is an ancient country tradition, sipped either neat like a liqueur or with soda.  Tried and tested is the Sloe-Groni, a combination of Sloe Gin with Sipsmith London Dry Gin, Campari and Vermouth Rosso, which works beautifully, adding a rich damson jam and earthy hedgerow depth of flavour.

With many gin distillers crafting other wild berry gins, such as Bombay Bramble, Ben Lomond, Raspberry & Elderflower / Blackberry & Rhubarb, these would also be fine alternatives to Sloe Gin.  

The Boulevardier, in which Bourbon replaces the Gin, is believed to have been created in Paris around the late 1920s, by an American writer, Erskine Gwynne. 

The Boulevardier and Old Pal

Scotch whisky lovers, can try instead a Negroni Torbato, in which Bourbon is switched with Lagavulin, a Single Malt from Islay, giving a smooth, smoky flavour – a potential new classic. This was invented by Allessandro Palazzi at the legendary Dukes Bar, London, a favourite haunt of Ian Fleming and where his literary-inspired Vesper was born. 

Allessandro Palazzi, the master of the Martini at Duke’s Bar, London

It has been fascinating to browse through these classic and modern recipes and sample a few new cool, creative cocktails.  

I am however a little surprised that some well known Negroni spin offs are not included such as the Cardinale a 1950’s-era variation by Giovanni Raimondo, bartender at the Hotel Excelsior, Rome at the personal request of a guest – a German Cardinal.  

The Cardinale – a Negroni crafted with Gin, Dry Vermouth & Campari.

Instead of Rosso, the Cardinale is made with Dry Vermouth, such that it’s a lighter pink in colour rather than the usual dark crimson with a real hint of a dry Gin Martini.  Simply delectable

Also missing in this collection is Negroni Sbagliato which has a most amusing backstory. It was first served at the Bar Basso, Milan in the late 1960s when the owner, Mirko Stocchetto, poured a measure of sparkling wine instead of gin. (Sbagliato means “incorrect” or “messed up” in Italian). 

Negroni Sbagliato = Prosecco, Campari, Vermouth Rosso

Created by happy accident, this light, sparkling Negroni Spritz is still a popular Aperitivo at the Bar Basso, across Italy and worldwide. 

Last April, Stanley Tucci, the stylishly fashionable American actor posted an Instagram video of himself making (indeed, curiously shaking up!) a Negroni, which went viral, shared on Twitter with millions viewing his Cocktail masterclass through social media.

Diary Date: Negroni Week 2021, 13 – 19 September, 2021.

Negroni Week was first launched in 2013 when over a hundred bars took part to raise funds for charitable causes. and in 2019, the global event welcomed nearly 10,000 venues in 87 countries to celebrate the centenary.

The White Rose – another creative twist to the classic Negroni

This fascinating journey through the history of The Negroni, illustrates only too well how Cocktails can be jazzed up, re-invented, revamped, whether unintentionally, a drinker’s wise suggestion or the magical alchemy of experimental mixologists.   

Negroni is an essential, enticing guide for all cocktail lovers and this reasonably priced, pocket-sized book would be an attractive gift for thirsty friends.

Salute! 

Negroni by David T. Smith and Keli Rivers

Published by Ryland Peters & Small.  Hardback:  £7.99

Book Photography by Alex Luck, copuright Ryland Peters & Small

For more information see this link to the website page:

Reviewer’s Note: Perhaps the publication of this book was rushed through the editorial and proof- reading process, but for such a short book, it’s a shame that there are several errors in spelling, punctuation and typography with a repetition of the word “ice-filled” in many recipes.

Grapefruit Negroni

C’est Le Printemps – Bienvenue FFF @Home 2021: a season of six French films for the perfect cultural night in.

The French Film Festival UK is the only festival dedicated to French and Francophone cinema. The 28th FFF 2020 was all due to set off again on a tour of 28 independent Art House cinemas from Aberdeen to Plymouth but unfortunately in early November, a second lockdown was announced. With cinemas suddenly closed, FFF@home was an innovative venture to view a small selection of movies on line with great success.  

As a special Springtime treat, the FFF has launched another season of FFF@home, featuring exclusive online screenings of six films available to view over three weekends this month.  

Richard Mowe, director and co-founder of the Festival, said: “We wanted to make sure that audiences did not miss out on some of the most anticipated films of the Festival due to the Covid disruption … and now they’re available to view online as part of the extended Festival. Bon film!”

Following the recent Golden Globes and the shortlist for the Academy Awards – the 93rd Oscars – announced on the 15,th  March is movie month indeed.  This online mini FFF is launched most appropriately on 12 March – the date when the French film industry celebrates the best new films, actor and creative achievements at the César awards.

Tickets to access your FFF@home cinema are available to purchase in advance – full details below. There’s an extra bonus too with subtitled conversations with the directors for a virtual FFF experience. All films are in French with English subtitles and available for 48 hours from the screening date and time listed in the schedule.

As an enticing taster, here is a snapshot of the French movies on offer across wartime drama, crime thrillers, comedy and romance.

Friday 12th March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

LOVE AFFAIR(S) (Les Choses qu’on dit, les choses qu’on fait)

Official Selection at Cannes 2020 and Best Film nomination, Césars 2021.

The French title is translated as “The Things We Say, the Things We Do,” and is a classic romantic tale of two strangers thrown together by chance, set against the lush green French countryside. Exploring their notions of what real love is, the chemistry between Daphne and Maxime covers a rich tapestry of emotion. Directed by Emmanuel Mouret, the film has been described as “a more serious “Love Actually” pitching between the sexy and the silly, the philosophical and farcical.”


Saturday 13th March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

NIGHTSHIFT  (Police)

Directed by Anne Fontaine and based on a novel by Hugo Boris, Night Shift focuses on three Parisian police officers charged with escorting a foreigner to Charles de Gaulle airport to be sent back to his homeland. “Am I a good cop or not?” the moody, gritty narrative, told from different points of view, explores the line between professional duty, personal conscience and moral values.  A highly dynamic and stylised blend of realism and impressionism.  Nightshift was premiered at the Berlinale Special Gala, 2020. 

Professional roles and personal values collide in Nightshift (Police)

Friday 19 March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

HOMEFRONT  (Des Hommes)

Officially selected for Cannes 2020 and for Deauville Film Festival 2021

In 1960, Bernard, Rabut, Février were called up to fight in the Algerian War, and returned two years later to France.  Fast forward a few decades to a birthday party, when an incident triggers memories for the veterans who have kept silent about what they saw, felt and endured. Directed by Lucas Belvaux, the different voices and perspectives are artfully intertwined as the men confront the past and how the traumatic African experience shaped their lives. “It’s a film about the wounds of war rather than the war itself.”

Saturday 20th March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

MAMA WEED  (La Daronne)

Set in Paris, this comedy caper stars Isabelle Huppert as Patience Portefeux, a French-Arabic interpreter working for the anti-narcotics Police squad, when she unwittingly becomes involved in the drug trafficking world. “Huppert is a chameleon of an actress and the transformation from world-weary translator to drug kingpin is remarkable, donning a leopard-print hijab, gold chain and massive shades. Her whimsical, light-hearted performance gives Patience an irresistible charm”.  Mama Weed is directed by Jean-Paul Salomé.

Friday 26 March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

THE TRANSLATORS (Les Traducteurs)

Directed and co-written by Régis Roinsard, this is an ingenious literary Agatha Christie-style whodunit in which a multi-lingual group of translators are all suspected of stealing a future best seller. This is the upcoming release of the final book in the Daedalus trilogy, which has been a global sensation. “The script is filled with twists, red herrings, false clues. Roisnard’s meticulous sense of craft and you get an altogether slick package.  A thrilling ride which will satisfy audiences who appreciate a good bookish mystery.”

The Translators at work on the new global best seller

Saturday 27 March, 7.30pm (available for 48 hours)

IN BED WITH VICTORIA  (Victoria)

In this stylish Parisian Romcom, directed by Justine Triet, Victoria is a thirty-something, divorced, single mother, juggling her work as a criminal lawyer, family life and trying to find love again.  At a rather drink-fuelled wedding, she meets an old friend Vincent, who is soon charged with attempted murder, and also bumps into a former client, Sam, a drug dealer. “ An amusing watch, this has freshness and naturalism .. with just enough kookiness to set itself apart from the pack.”  

In Bed with Victoria – a stylish French Romcom

This latest FFF@home season is presented in partnership with the new platform INDY On Demand powered by Shift72 and films can be viewed on all browsers and devices.

You can purchase each film separately with tickets priced at £8 or the Festival Pass gives access to all six films for £40. There are concessions for 16-25s. Films are available for 48 hours from the release date and time of the screening.  Once you have bought your ticket and pressed PLAY, you have 48 hours to watch the film as many times as you like!.

Just like in a cinema, space is limited so make sure you book tickets in advance to ensure of the best seat in the house. Then time to make a large tub of popcorn and settle down to enjoy FFF@home.

Browse all movie info, watch trailers and book your tickets here:

https://frenchfilmfestival.org.uk/2021/whats-online-in-march/

https://www.indyondemand.com/page/french-film-festival-uk/

The seafaring, entrepreneurial story of ACTIPH Alkaline Ionised water for supercharged energy and good health.

“It’s not just the thrill of adventure but exploration; being the first to achieve something,” Jamie Douglas-Hamilton

This is an incredible tale of sportsmanship, endeavour and innovation.  It begins in 2014, when Jamie Douglas-Hamilton joined a team of eight men taking on the epic challenge of rowing 4,200 miles from Australia to Africa across the Indian Ocean, in aid of the charity, Save the Elephants.

Rowing across the Indian Ocean: 11 August 2014, arriving in the Seychelles

The crew battled the ocean’s currents, high waves, storms, hit by a hurricane, and a collision with a whale, on the two and a half month trip. Rowing to a strict routine of short, sharp shifts, it was hard physical work, burning around 10,000 calories and drinking a dozen litres of water each day.

The eureka moment came when one member of the crew added some salt water to his drinking water (desalinated water), which had a positive effect on his fitness especially the tough night shifts. Encouraged by this, they all mixed fresh and salt water which increased energy levels and reduced a recurring problem of hallucinations.

Jamie Douglas-Hamilton, world class rower and business entrepreneur

 “As a result, we broke two Guinness World Records: one for the fastest crossing and one for the longest crossing of the Indian Ocean. I don’t think that was because of how fit we were; I think it was because of what we drank.” Jamie Douglas-Hamilton

After realising that fresh water mixed with salt water is more hydrating than fresh water alone, Jamie started to research the choice of bottled water finding only spring, mineral and sparkling on offer in Britain.

After securing more than £1 million through crowdfunding, ACTIPH Water, a Scottish company, was launched in 2017 and is the first alkaline ionised water produced and bottled in the UK.

The sea water was the inspiration, but Actiph is based on natural spring water from Wenlock in Shropshire, with a formula of electrolytes and minerals, removing elements of acidity for a smooth taste.  Ionised water is proven in clinical trials to hydrate the body faster than ordinary water and as an anti-inflammatory, benefits digestive ailments.

ACTIPH Water is not just for elite athletes and super sporty, active people – it’s a health and beauty product!

Drinking Actiph alkaline water means that you are not only getting the moisture-boosting benefits of water, but maximum hydration from the electrolytes and minerals, which are essential for good health and glowing skin. Researchers have found that alkaline water provides better hydration than neutral PH water – so it’s well worth finding out what all the fuss is about.” Dr. Naomi Newman-Beinart, Nutritionist and a Specialist in Health Psychology

Dr. Naomi Newman-Beinart – a water drinking advocate and health advisor for Actiph

The pH scale goes from 0-14, with 7 being neutral. Drinks like Coca-Cola are around 2pH, which is highly acidic while Actiph is bottled at 9.8pH. Free from sugar, sweeteners, caffeine or calories, the ingredients are Wenlock Spring Water, Magnesium Sulphate, Sodium Carbonate, Potassium Bicarbonate.

Over the past couple of weeks, I have stocked my fridge with bottles of ACTIPH to ensure there’s ice-cold water to sip when I return from a brisk jog around the park.   Not knowing what an ionised, mineral-rich water would taste like, I wondered if it would be like Badoit, with its slightly unpleasant, salty flavour. Fortunately not –  the label states there is 0% salt. 

Expect a pure, clean tasting, refreshing, thirst-quenching, supercharged spring water – and it has done wonders to my complexion too. This is a most innovative, nutritious, energising drink for all round good health and hydrated skin.

After the successful launch of ACTIPH as a global, healthy lifestyle brand, the aim is to be a top player in the USA, Europe, Middle East and Asia. Stocked already by over 6,000 retailers and exported to 15 countries, the aim is to increase sales further over the next year or two.

Having successfully rowed across the Indian Ocean, what was the next challenge for the adventurous, super-fit Jamie.?

Feared by mariners and eminent explorers for centuries, the Drake Passage (named after Sir Francis Drake), is the stretch of water where the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans meet in a turbulent, terrifying sea.

In December, 2019, in a pioneering attempt to be the first Scotsman to row across Drakes Passage, Jamie joined an international crew of six led by Icelandic explorer Fiann Paul, to cross the 650-mile route from Cape Horn to the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica.

A feat of endurance rowing across Drakes Passage to Antarctica

During this daring, dangerous 12 day expedition, the men faced freezing temperatures and 50 foot waves, as they battled to row against relentless strong currents and force six crosswinds.  Their incredible feat of endurance and survival established five Guinness World Records and was described as “one of the most impressive adventures ever undertaken.

This epic voyage was captured on film for a documentary, The Impossible Row, screened on the Discovery Channel.

It’s clearly reminiscent of the heroic journey in 1916 when Ernest Shackleton and five men set off in a small lifeboat to South Georgia on a mission to arrange the rescue of the Endurance crew left stranded on Elephant Island.

Launching the James Caird lifeboat for the voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia, 1916 (Frank Hurley)

Mr Douglas-Hamilton is certainly a high achiever from pioneering sportsman to business excellence; for the creation of Actiph alkaline ionised water, he was named Start-Up Entrepreneur of the Year, 2018, and then Food and Drink Entrepreneur of the Year at the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, 2020.

ACTIPH water is widely available at health stores and all leading supermarkets

For more information and to purchase on line: https://actiph.shop/

Watch the Documentary: “The Impossible Row”

https://www.discoveryplus.co.uk/show/the-impossible-row

Add this supercharged Spring water to your daily diet for improved energy and good health

‘From the River to the Sea: Aquitaine, A Place for Me’ by Basia Gordon. A Memoir: A time-travelling, personal journey between Scotland to South West France

We Brits are born travellers eager for adventure, an escape for cultural experiences, a taste of luxury, or perhaps, in search of a new place to call home.

When Peter Mayle moved to rural France, he intended to write a novel, not a bestselling memoir. ‘A Year in Provence,’ first published in 1989, is an aspirational lifestyle tale about a fifty-something couple renovating a derelict farmhouse in France.

Their decision had begun with “.. a meal that we shall never forget, beyond the gastronomic frontiers (and) we promised ourselves that one day we would live here.”

Peter Mayle at home in Provence.

Unintentionally, Mayle created a new style of literary travel genre, leading to other successful narratives such as ‘Driving over Lemons’ by Chris Stewart, and ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ by Frances Mayes.

Basia Gordon

“Let your dream take over your life rather than your life take over your dream.”

This translation from a French proverb is the apt starting point of Basia Gordon’s narrative about taking a year out from life and work in Glasgow to refurbish an early 19th century farmhouse in Aquitaine.  She first gives a glimpse into her rich Polish heritage covering her parents’ distressing wartime experiences which led to them both, independently, to Scotland where they soon met.

Map of the Aquitaine region and location of their family holiday home

As it was a long way to travel to Poland for regular holidays, in 1972 her father had bought Coutal, a “charming wreck” in rural France for £3.000: “We would never quite belong there, half marooned, half anchored to it as we were.  We would always be regarded as foreigners, invariably referred to locally by the misnomer, Les Anglais.”

Coutal, – the family holiday home, Lot et Garonne, Aquitaine in the 1970s.

Memories of summers here are colourful and carefree, “as children we were feral and relished our freedom, only coming home late in the evening when we were hungry”.

After her father passed away, it continued to be a place for Polish and Scottish family reunions but with limited funds for maintenance and development. “In 2018, my partner Gerry and I decided to take a sabbatical from our teaching jobs to renovate Coutal.”  

Coutal in the rural tranquility of Lot et Garonne

Their initial 29 hour journey from Glasgow to Aquitaine by car with an over-packed trailer (an array of objects, thirty T shirts, Philippe Starck cheese grater, Cocktail book, but no cocktail shaker), is related with light hearted humour through a series of unfortunate incidents.

Lot et Garonne and community of villages

The destination is Lot-et-Garonne, south of the Dordogne and north of Gascony in the Aquitaine region of France. A lush fertile landscape with fields of sunflowers, plum trees, vineyards, farms, market towns and pretty Medieval villages.

Basia lost in a meadow of sunflowers near Coutal

This Memoir follows Bazia’s personal, often emotional reminiscences of Coutal, the progress of the building work, daily challenges of language, laws and lifestyle to fit in, not as tourists but as locals.  

This is not a quick decorating job, but hard manual labour, digging the earth, building walls, erecting a garage, creating an ensuite bedroom in the barn, electrical wiring, grass cutting, all in preparation to welcome their first visitors at their farmhouse ‘hotel”.  

A rhythm of work, eat, siesta, rest, work again. They need to brush up their French especially technical and DIY phrases in order to buy wood or a hinge and learn that sandpaper is Le papier de verre.

Gerry and Basia, armed with essential tools

The reader is introduced to their friendly, nonagenarian neighbours, Etienne and Suzanne Gouget, “peasant’ farmers, who eat well with their own fresh eggs and vegetables, farm reared poultry and wild rabbits.

 Basia and Gerry explore the local villages, Largadonne, Born, St. Vivien with numerous vineyards all around, including Chateau de Planque and Buzet – yes, Plonk and Boozy.!

Known as the Tuscany of France,  “there is a surfeit of prettiness here, rolling hills and bucolic charm” amidst the sizzling hot summer sun.  

The region of Lot et Garonne – the Tuscany of France

Following country customs, Basia makes soap from orange blossom, lemon grass and bay leaves while their garden is now flourishing with sunflowers, pumpkin, rosemary and lavender.

The picturesque heritage town of Monflanquin

The Medieval towns of Monflanquin and Villereal attract 100,000 visitors a year, and Bodega, the annual festival in August is when clowns, musicians, dancers and jugglers stage street theatre circus entertainment creating a lively, sociable event.

The lively cultural, social community of Villereal

Many old properties in this area with swimming pools and outhouses have been purchased cheaply, but renovation is very expensive -“dreams crumbled and houses abandoned.” Meanwhile, they plough on with their dream designer holiday home, visiting many a Vide Grenier –  car boot sales – to buy vintage homeware, art, antiques and curios.

Conducting financial business with the Tax office and bank seems to be a bureaucratic nightmare .. not to mention the ensuing complications of living in France after Brexit which has been nothing but “Mayhem.. Brekshit.”  Expenses are a constant source of worry – house insurance,  medical treatment (will it be covered by the EHIC card?!) and endless car problems – ( L’embroyer is the word for clutch). When they buy a 16 year old Peugot, it requires a passport, proof of home address and payment by cheque. 

When money is tight, they keep calm and carry on, “We shall be eating baguette sans fromage for a month.”   Basia is fascinated to know that a staggering 30 million baguettes are sold in France every day, plus all those crisp crosssants and pastries!

Over recent months, the Gilet Jaunes marches have swept the country, protesting against President Macron’s changes to taxation and welfare, a grassroots revolution for economic justice. As welcome breaks from politics and the building site, Basia and Gerry relax on holiday in Majorca with a literary pilgrimage to the home of the poet Robert Graves, a heritage tour of Berlin and an exciting trip to China to observe efficient bullet trains and cutting-edge technology.

The Barn undergoing major reconstruction!

Back in ‘Coutal’, the renovation work resumes, installing a new kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.  The design is Scandi chic for the Barn in contrast to traditional oak wood in the farmhouse, now furnished with old church pews from Scotland.  

Basia is righly very proud of the smart new windows now installed in the Barn

“I wonder what my father would have thought of the changes at Coutal Haut?” muses Basia.   

During a cold, wet January, Basia and Gerry celebrate Burns Night with a party for friends, and find that the bottles of whisky are cheaper in France than in Scotland.!  Their rural retreat has often been a revolving door of family and friends, which prove to be enjoyable diversions from the job in hand, especially if guests bring Tunnocks caramel wafers from Glasgow.

Amongst all the anecdotes, the most poetic stories describe an appetising feast of good food and drink.  The buzzing farmers’ Markets are the place to buy the freshest fruit and vegetables, and they also pick their own walnuts and plums – the delicious Pruneaux d’Agen is a famous speciality.

Fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables at the weekly local markets.

Cheap, gluggable, quality wine is purchased in BIBS  – a bag of 5 litres in a box and they also try their hand at making walnut wine.  Embracing local manners, it is important to greet everyone you meet each day, with a cheery Bonjour.

Their elderly neighbours, Etienne and Suzanne, are true Masterchefs, rustling up Broad bean soup, truffle omelette, venison pate for lunch. A turkey “fed with grains and fruit produced the most succulent, mouth watering meat we had ever tasted.”  Quality, simple peasant cooking at its best.

Just like Peter Mayle’s passion for French cuisine which enticed his move to Provence, it’s the food and wine which has been a highlight of their sabbatical in Aquitaine. “From the River to the Sea” is a most enchanting, time-travelling journey, enriched with childhood memories, cultural & culinary adventures, relating the story of a beloved family home, ‘Coutal’ for over nearly fifty years.

   “A year of difficult situations and heartbreak ….I could write a dissertation on French building terms!.” Basia Gordon.

Coutal – beautifully redesigned for the 21st century

From the River to the Sea: Aquitaine, A Place for MeA Memoir by Basia Gordon is published by Matador.

Hardback: £17.99 ISBN: 978-1800461345

Paperback: £12.99 ISBN: 978-1800461352

For a simple supper or celebratory dinner, choose Cheese from Paxton & Whitfield with hampers and gifts galore.

The enticing Cheese trolley with a glass of port

Savoury or Sweet that is the question. At the end of a delicious dinner, do you prefer to indulge in a rich dessert or order the Cheese board.?

Here it is, on the back of the menu.
How, instead of a pudding, an extra fiver
will buy you the choice of the Cheese Room.
It shines in the corner, a treasury,
the moony glow of the cheeses walled round
with glass. As soon as she sees it, she’s lost.

From ‘The Cheese Room’, Judy Brown

The fromage-loving French very wisely first sample the Brie and Comté, before finishing with, perhaps, Tarte Tatin or Mousse au Chocolat.

It is often assumed that women, in particular, are addicted to chocolate but, no, many of us would prefer a gift of the finest cheese for birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter. 

Whatever the occasion or just a weekend treat, this is just the time to enjoy quality food and drink at home: plan a wine & cheese party, family supper or celebratory dinner party. Instead of throwing a block of polythene-wrapped mousetrap cheddar into your supermarket basket, take a virtual trip to Paxton & Whitfield, Britain’s leading cheesemonger for over 200 years, sourcing and maturing exceptional cheeses.

Before describing my tasty feast of three Scottish cheeses, let’s look back at the inspirational story behind the founding of Paxton & Whitfield and its heritage. 

The original idea began in 1742 when Stephen Cullum set up a cheese stall in Aldwych market, before his son Sam moved the business to premises near Jermyn Street – where there is still a shop today. He also took on two new partners – Harry Paxton and Charles Whitfield, whose names would formally establish the company in 1797. Its reputation was sealed in 1850 when it received the Royal Warrant as cheesemonger to HM Queen Victoria.

Paxton & Whitfield – the renowned cheesemonger since 1797

Paxton’s has always been a market leader, working with British Artisan cheesemakers and importing the best from Europe, and as Winston Churchill once observed “a gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton & Whitfield“. Today, the company maintains Royal Warrants from Her Majesty The Queen and HRH The Prince of Wales.

Jermyn Street, London – home to tailors, designer fashion and Paxton & Whitfield

So now it’s time to share my experience of tasting and testing three Artisan cheeses from different geographical regions of Scotland. The large cardboard box of cheese was kept fresh and insulated with an ice pack and wool blanket, the overnight delivery ensuring a swift arrival.

Paxton & Whitfield – Scottish cheese for Burns Night in January

 Paxton’s compiled this delicious selection to sample on a tour from the Western Isles to the Moray Firth and Royal Deeside.

Tobermory, Isle of Mull

Isle of Mull Farmhouse

As part of the Inner Hebrides, a short ferry ride from Oban, is the Isle of Mull where in 1979, Jeff and Chris Reade followed their dream, moving with their four boys from Somerset to take over Sgriob-ruadh Farm, near the colourful, waterfront town of Tobermory.  The only dairy farm on the island, the Reade family continues to run this successful family business.

The mixed dairy herd at Sgriob-ruadh Farm, Isle of Mull

All of the cheese is made with unpasteurised milk from their herd of mainly Friesian, and also Ayrshire, Jersey and Brown Swiss cows, fed on grass and whisky grain husks, called Draff, from the Tobermory Distillery.

Every morning, the fresh milk is taken directly from the milking parlour to the cheese-making vat. As the cheese is unpasteurised it takes on the character of the seasons and in winter, it’s almost white in colour with an occasional blue vein as a mark of maturity.

Isle of Mull Farmhouse cheddar

The traditional Farmhouse cheddar has been handcrafted here for over forty years, most recently winning Gold Awards for Artisan Cheese and Best Scottish cheese.

Taste Test: Richly smooth with a slightly crumbly texture, super creamy with a tangy, salty taste and you may detect a soft boozy note too.!  

Isle of Mull Farmhouse cheddar and Hebridean Blue

Serve with your preference for crisp crackers, light, thin water biscuits, or traditional oatcakes.  The traditional accompaniment of a savoury relish would be ideal, grapes and quince jam. For a heartier meal, grill a slab on wholemeal toast and serve with sweet onion chutney, and on the side, a Stout or even better, a dram of Tobermory single malt.

Clava Brie 

Connage Highland Dairy is also on a family-run farm in Ardersier, Inverness, founded by Hamish Clark and today run by his two sons, Callum and Cameron and their wives. They have an organic dairy herd of 140 cows, mainly Holstein Friesian with some Jersey crosses and Norwegian Reds which graze on clover pastures along the shore of the Moray Firth.

Connage Farm – a tranuil sunny setting on the Moray Firth

Brie is the most famous French cheese, renowned as “The King of Cheeses,” named after the region where it was originally created – Brie De Meaux AOC was first created in the Middle Ages by the monks of the Priory of Rueil en Brie.  

The legendary French ‘King of Cheese’

For their award-winning Clava Brie, the Connage cheesemakers ladle the very delicate curd by hand into moulds and mature in a temperature controlled store. The cheese then develops a soft white rind before being individually hand wrapped. This is organic and suitable for vegetarians.

Clava Brie

Taste Test: This magnolia-tinted wedge just looks so artistic, with its smooth white rind, and then sample the earthy, mushroom flavour. This is a distinctive, finely crafted delicacy.

Brie is at its classic best when ripe, creamy and buttery, served with crackers or crusty bread, especially a French Baguette.  This cheese is well complemented with walnuts, honey and Plum chutney, to enhance the sweetness, and a glass of fine wine – a crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc or a soft Pinot Noir.

Auld Reekie 

The Cambus O’May Cheese Company is located near charming village of Ballater in Royal Deeside.  A sixth generation cheesemaker, Alex Reid makes Scottish, artisanal cheese using the traditional crafts passed down from his grandmother.

The scenic landscape of Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire

Our recipes haven’t changed in over 50 years nor has the way we make our cheese. Pure, unadulterated, unpasteurised goodness. Made with love to be consumed with passion.” Alex Reid

Cambus O’May Artisan cheese based on long established family tradition

Auld Reekie is inspired by the local smoking methods for speciality smoked venison and salmon in Royal Deeside. This handmade cheese is lightly smoked over whisky barrel shavings which give the creamery an aromatic whisky distillery atmosphere.

The name is taken from the old slang term for Edinburgh due to chimney smoke, and where by 1777 there were 400 illicit distilleries, producing a thick smog which blackened the grand sandstone buildings.

This two day, cow’s milk curd is carefully developed to combine the flavours and textures of traditional cheddar-like cheese with a delicate wood and whisky finish. 

Taste Test:  This is hard, amber-coloured with a crumbly texture. The aroma ‘reeks’ with a pungent smokiness, while the flavour is more mellow, richly creamy with an underlying hint of earthy peat from the whisky-scented wood.  

A good partnership for this fragrant cheese would be a fruit chutney, such as fig or plum & apple.  And to drink?  The local Royal Lochnagar Distillery is on the River Dee near Balmoral Castle – their 12 year old single malt offers notes of soft smoke, hay, oak and gingerbread. Alternatively, what could be more appropriate than the punchy blended malt from Islay, Auld Reekie, richly peaty, with spices and fruity sweetness.  

If this has whetted your appetite, take a look at the range of cheese on offer at Paxton & Whitfield; there are two London stores, but it’s so easy to browse and buy on line for home delivery.  The colourfully illustrated website is user friendly with a clear menu for Cheese Boards, Hampers, Gifts, Drinks, (Port, wine, beers), seasonal events and celebratory diary dates.

A specially designed gift set for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day purchases include free UK* delivery on all orders over £40. Choose from the exclusive selection of cheese for your date night at home or a special romantic gift.  

https://www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk/shop/valentines-cheese-gifts

The finest English and French, heart-shaped, artisan cheeses including limited edition truffled Coeur de Neufchâtel, with chutneys and crackers, offers a restaurant-quality Valentine’s cheese board delivered to your door.  

The exclusive, heart-shaped Truffled Coeur de Neufchâtel

Coeur de Neufchâtel is one of Normandy’s oldest cheeses, it’s said that milk maids would present these love tokens to knights heading off to fight in the 100 years war.

Review from March 2020:  “I bought the Valentine’s cheese box for my partner. The cheeses were of exceptional quality and married perfectly with the charcoal crackers and the sweetness of the fig chutney. 5 stars.”

And with Easter on the horizon, instead of chocolate eggs, why not enjoy a platter of cheese for a savoury treat. ?

For all information, range of cheese, hampers, gift boxes, drinks and on line purchase:

https://www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk/

https://www.paxtonandwhitfield.co.uk/shop/other-fine-foods

Paxton & Whitfield supplies Artisan cheeses and fine food products to Selfridges; Harvey Nichols and Harrods, as well as leading restaurants and hotels including several Michelin-starred establishments.

Paxton & Whitfield – cheese hampers and gifts galore

Ben Lomond Scottish Gin infused with wild berries creates refreshing, floral- scented, juicy-fruity, pink cocktails.

Ben Lomond towering over Loch Lomond

Ben Lomond, the majestic Munro which dominates the dramatic beauty of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, was the inspiration behind the award-winning Ben Lomond Scottish Gin, launched in 2019. 

Following this success, the distillers were keen to explore the Loch Lomond region further and challenge their creativity to produce two deliciously distinctive, premium gins, infused with Blackberry & Gooseberry and Raspberry & Elderflower. 

For the purist G&T lover who might assume that tinkering with the cool, classic taste of Dry London gin, is a modern fad, in fact, flavoured, fruit-based gins are nothing new at all.

Sloe gin – the original berry gin from the 17th century

Berries from the Blackthorn bush to make home-made Sloe Gin was a country custom from the 17th century, and this ruby-red, sweet liqueur was served in London taverns as a poor man’s Port.  A century later, Pink gin was created with a few drops of Angostura bitters, (invented in the 1820s as a cure for stomach ailments and seasickness), which soon becoming a popular cocktail. 

Spain is home to the biggest gin market in the world and in 2014 the Puerto de Indias distillery, Andalucia, launched their Sevillian Strawberry gin, an immediate best seller which created a new category and sparked the thirst for pink drinks.

Puerto de Indias, Sevillian Strawberry Gin

As the gin craze continues to blossom today worldwide, the trend is for innovative flavours such as Sicilian lemon, red wine grapes, rhubarb, ginger, chocolate et. al. and less alcoholic, sweet gin liqueurs. 

The Ben Lomond distillery team therefore very wisely decided to work with a local forager, Mark Williams from Galloway Wild Foods, to discover a harvest of botanicals, sweet berries and aromatic flowers growing around the hills and woodland of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.

The wild natural beauty of Loch Lomond

After careful blending and crafting, in June 2020, they launched the Raspberry & Elderflower and Blackberry & Gooseberry Gins, both infused with berry essences and a touch of sugar, richly imbued with the base spirit of the Ben Lomond Dry London Gin.

The recipe for this fine Scottish Gin includes the essential Juniper and ten other herbal, spicy and floral botanicals such as rose petals and orris root, as well as hand-picked blackcurrants and local rowan berries. This combines perfectly with the blackberries, gooseberries and raspberries for a luscious ripe, fruity taste of summer and autumn.

Raspberry & Elderflower-infused Scottish Gin

The Gin Masters, The Spirits Business 2020: Gold Medal

Regarded as a gift from the Earth Mother, the Elder tree is a symbol of regeneration, believed to ward off witches – hence, Harry Potter’s coveted Elder Wand.  

The delicate frothy Elderflower blossom

White Elderflower blossom has been used widely in recent years to make wine, cordials, St. Germain Liqueur and as an ideal addition to gin.  With a subtle flavour of honey/vanilla/jasmine/pear, it perfectly complements the tart sweetness of raspberry. 

Around the neck of the bottle is a lovely, colourful gift tag: – “A vibrant yet balanced gin that can be enjoyed on its own or as part of your favourite tipple.”

First, the aroma – a soft floral rose perfume with a lingering hint of vanilla and raspberry. 

I then poured a generous 50 ml measure into a chunky rocks glass containing a large 2 inch iceberg. (large ice cubes look attractive, as used by professional bar tenders and they melt slowly).

The taste test: As this is a 38% ABV gin, perhaps it is not surprising that the warming, woody Juniper comes to the fore with a sharp kick. Then taste the fruity sweetness of the summer berry and citrus flavour.  Sipped over ice it’s simply delicious – this is not a gin to drown in Tonic water.

A signature Cocktail created by Ben Lomond Distillers is the Lomond Negroni, as a Scottish take on the Italian classic.

35 ml Raspberry & Elderflower Gin

10 ml Sweet Vermouth

10ml Aperol.

If you prefer, switch the Aperol for the richer, stronger Campari, stirring all the ingredients over ice and add a garnish of orange and raspberry.  The smooth, sweet Vermouth and bitter orange-rhubarb flavour of the Campari blends so well with this Raspberry Gin. 

Lomond Negroni

For a lighter drink, mix this gin to lemonade and/or Sparkling wine as a Spritz for a refreshing thirst-quencher on a summer’s day.  

Crème de Cassis, the blackcurrant liqueur from Dijon is famously used in the pre-prandial tipple, Kir, – just a little is added to a flute of white wine, or with champagne for a Kir Royale. Likewise, a few dashes of the Raspberry and Elderflower Gin to ice cold Prosecco or Cava creates a stylish pink aperitif with a garnish of fresh raspberries.

Kir Royale

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer’s blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue

Blackberry Picking Seamus Heaney

Ben Lomond Blackberry & Gooseberry-infused Scottish Gin

The Gin Masters, The Spirits Business, 2020: Silver Medal

As the Ben Lomond London Dry gin features blackcurrants, rowan berries and orange peel as key ingredients, the addition of blackberry and gooseberry further enhances the rich, ripe bittersweet and citrus tang of blended fruits.

First the aroma: a woodland piney tone is evident, which opens up to be more vegetal, with juicy black / red fruits, a hint of jam, nothing that is obviously tart.

Now the first taste: “cleaner” than on the nose from the spicy coriander with more forest in the wild fruit flavour than sweet blackberry jam.

Again, as well as a long drink with tonic, it is personally recommended to serve this gin neat over a large ice cube, to fully appreciate this well balanced, elegantly smooth, Juniper-rich gin.  

As many chefs will concur, gooseberries are the perfect partner for mackerel as the sweet acidity of the tangy berries cuts through the smoky saltiness of this oily fish.

The French for gooseberry is groseille à maquereau, (literally currant with mackerel), which gives a Gallic seal of approval to serve smoked mackerel with gooseberries.

Grilled mackerel with gooseberries and cucumber

The Inverawe Smokehouse also suggests a gooseberry and ginger sauce to accompany their fine smoked salmon.

Why not rustle up these fabulous canapés – Blinis with a slither of Smoked Salmon, topped with crème fraiche and caviar, and nibble with an ice cold shot of Blackberry & Gooseberry-infused Gin. Simply divine.!

Smoked Salmon Blinis with crème fraiche and caviar

Ben Lomond Distillers have been experimentin with these fruity gins and crafted this enticing twist on a Bramble Cocktail.

The Bramble was created by the legendary Dick Bradsell in the 1980s at Fred’s Club, Soho, a concoction of dry gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and Crème de Mûre, (blackberry liqueur), which gives a deep, fruity and sweet taste. One of the most iconic gin drinks of the modern age.

The Blackberry & Gooseberry Gin would be the perfect alternative to combine the gin and Crème de Mûre in a Bramble.

Bramble Cocktail

And this Loch Lomond version of the French 75, is renamed the Alba 75.

30ml Blackberry & Gooseberry Gin
10ml Lime Juice
10ml Sugar Syrup
1 dash of Ginger Spice
Top with Sparkling Wine

Add the gin, lime juice, sugar syrup and ginger to a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Pour into a flute glass and top with sparkling wine. Garnish with a twist of lime.

Alba 75

These Ben Lomond floral-scented, jammy, juicy Berry-infused Gins are so versatile, whether just with ice, splash in a sparkling mixer or shake up in your favourite cocktail.

More information on the full range of Ben Lomond gins, with further Cocktail recipes and online shop:  

Ben Lomond Scottish Gin, Raspberry & Elderflower, and Blackberry & Goosberry

https://www.benlomondgin.com/our-gins/

https://www.benlomondgin.com/our-gins/raspberry-elderflower-gin/

https://www.benlomondgin.com/our-gins/blackberry-gooseberry-gin/

Fenton Tower, North Berwick – this ancient Scottish Castle is a unique, magical hideaway with all luxury, homely comforts

Located a forty minute drive from Edinburgh, near the seaside town of North Berwick, Fenton Tower is a hidden, historical gem of a property. Constructed around 1560, this Medieval Tower house was once a place of refuge for King James VI of Scotland, and later destroyed by Oliver Cromwell. It became a derelict ruin for 350 years until it was tastefully and imaginatively renovated into a 5 star property in 2002. 

Fenton Tower, near North Berwick, East Lothian

This is an authentic Scottish castle but far from being cold and draughty, expect a warm welcome from the House Manager, his staff ….and a roaring log fire. Within the ancient stone walls, Fenton Tower has been transformed into a graceful country house, where everything is perfectly polished from the tableware to hospitality: this is a luxuriously relaxing home-from-home for the perfect escape, family celebrations, golf and sporting trips.

The derelict ruin of the ancient Fenton Tower

The owners of Fenton Tower – Ian Simpson, whose family have farmed the surrounding estate since 1900s, and his friend John Macaskill – shared a passion to embark on a four-year  project to resurrect this A listed historic monument.

As Historic Scotland stipulated the preservation of the existing structure, they sourced the original quarry stone to renovate the staircase and purchased suits of Armour, Clan heraldry, fine art and furnishings for an authentic period setting.

The 16th century Fenton Tower is now beautifully restored

This is an exclusive-use property suitable for family getaways, romantic retreats, birthdays, weddings, golfing trips, country sports, or a leisure and cultural break to explore the countryside and coastline of East Lothian and the city of Edinburgh.

The Great Hall authentically designed with a collection of ancient swords, antiques and fine art

At the centre of the Tower is the marvellous oak beamed Great Hall features a huge original Hearth, antiques, armour, old portraits, artwork and tapestries as well as contemporary sink-into sofas piled with cushions, a blend of classic style and all modern comfort.

The overall aim here is for relaxation with the adjacent cosy Library (books, games, TV), and help yourself to a drink –  the local NB Gin, sherry or whisky – from the Butler’s Pantry.

The Library – home from home with books, games and television

Two spiral carpeted staircases lead up to the seven bedrooms, each themed and named after Scottish families associated with the Tower – Stewart, Erskine, Carmichael etc. with a clan plaque on the door.  

Clan Carmichael Bedroom – classic comfort

Each is distinctively designed with Four Poster, Half Tester and Italian silver framed beds, tastefully decorated with vintage European furniture: Armoire wardrobes, armchairs, writing desks, dressing tables, white bedlinen, flowered bedspreads and curtains.

Clan Stewart bedroom, artistically designed and furnished
Clan Ruthven with Half tester bed

Large, lavish bathrooms boast clawfoot, canopied or copper tubs and separate showers. The Stewart suite has French double basins, a huge clawfoot tub (a warning states that it fills up in just 3 minutes!), fluffy towels, Penhaligon toiletries, cream satin-edged bathrobes.

Bathroom with clawfoot bath and antique twin basin
Vintage bath tub with shower jets

A modern Lodge in the grounds – charmingly furnished in tweeds and artistic colour scheme – has two double bedrooms, kitchen and lounge offering extra accommodation for guests.

The Garden Lodge with two double bedrooms

Fenton Tower offers the true experience of a traditional, personally-tailored, house party, fully catered with menus prepared and served by the professional team.  

This is the chance to dress up elegantly for the evening, starting with a G&T, champagne or cocktails in the Great Hall before a grand, candle-lit dinner in the stone arched Dining Room.

Dinner is served in grand style in the candlelit Dungeon

This period theatrical setting with fine china, silver and glassware, brings to mind a blend of Agatha Christie and Downton Abbey lifestyle –  so glamorously romantic!. 

A formal table setting with wine decanter and glistening glasses

Indulge in a feast of Scottish cuisine: fresh lobster and crab from North Berwick, Belhaven smoked fish, prime beef, seasonal venison and pheasant from Fenton Tower’s own Shooting estate. End the evening back in the Grand Hall for a dram of Whisky as a warming nightcap.

Breakfast Banquet – freshly baked croissants and home made preserves

Breakfast is also traditionally served with a cold Buffet laid out on sideboard – fresh fruit, prunes, apricots, yogurt, cereals, warm croissants and muffins with home made jams, strong hot coffee – Steam Punk, specially roasted for Fenton Tower. A selection of hot dishes is made to order such as Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, Kedgeree and omelettes. As at dinner, you can be assured of quality produce and personal service.

Seton, a twin bedroom to suit families with children

Family parties, Christmas celebrations and summer holidays would be ideal here with children welcome – this was the film set for Archie’s Castle in the TV series Balamory and there are 350 acres of private grounds for outdoor adventures. Visit the Museum of Flight to see the Concorde aircraft, beach walks galore, horse-riding and boat trips to the bird sanctuary on the Bass Rock. 

The glorious sandy stretch of Tyninghame beach

For sports enthusiasts, there are 15 golf courses within 10 miles of Fenton Tower, including Gullane, North Berwick and the famous Championship course, Muirfield.  In the Tower, a collection of photos of famous Scottish golfers including the legendary Tom Morris, is displayed in the old wood panelled Washroom complete with a traditional Thunderbox Loo.

Glen Golf Club, North Berwick with stunning view of the Bass Rock

Guests can also arrange to visit Fenton Brunt Estate for pheasant and partridge shooting or go fly fishing in rivers and lochs.

Surrounded by an authentic sense of Scottish royalty and clan history, indulge in luxurious, cosy comfort and personalised service – guests are truly spoiled.  Vintage styled bedrooms, exemplary cuisine and Great Hall with roaring log fire, all create the perfect ambience of a grand country house.

Whatever the occasion, the opportunity to stay in your own private wee Scottish Castle is simply a magical, memorable and unique experience.

What other guests say:

A family celebration – loved every minute, we all want to do it all again, I can’t thank Alan and his team enough for making this stay so memorable.

We promised the grandchildren a weekend in a Scottish castle – wonderful!.

The Tower itself is stunning and cosy whilst the hospitality was spot on.

Fenton Tower was named the National Exclusive Use Venue of the Year at the Scottish Hotel Awards, 2020. 

Fenton Tower: Sleeps 13 | 7 Bedrooms | Dogs Welcome. From £185 per person per night, based on a minimum of 10 guests on an exclusive use basis with breakfast. Minimum two-night stay.

A self-catering rate during low and mid-season will be considered on request.

To book, visit www.crabtreeandcrabtree.com or call 01573  226711