toblerone christmas
Christmas quite literally crept up out of nowhere, didn’t it?

It’s been a little bit different to the traditional ‘sands through the hourglass’ surprises of yesteryears for 2018. I have been so genuinely bogged down in work, life and their inconsequential demands that the shops seemed to trade their bikinis for baubles in the blink of an eye.

Stress, naturally, set in. While I’m fortunate to spend Christmas with some of the most unbelievable people this universe has to spare me, I am an impossibly idealist gift giver. My partner needs perfection. My Secret Santa needs every sensation £50 can afford. The children in my life need Christmas magic.

They’re not unattainable ideals. But they’re not really Christmas, either.

Through most of my adolescence, Christmas was marked by transit. Being chaperoned to people across land and sky. Always hoping snow would be a halcyon. And always gazing longingly at duty free Toblerone bars.

It seems a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? That triangle-shaped blocks of chocolate could form memories that last decades. But they did.

Sadly, long security queues and no money to call my own worked against me. I would scuttle past the mass of mini-mountains year after year with just enough time to question how I might, one day, get my hands on the holy grail.

Somewhere between the airports and adulting, I forgot. I forgot how the smallest gift would have meant the world to me. A £9.99 mountain of milk chocolate and nougat. A super-value selection pack of milk, white, dark or fruit and nut chocolate (at £7.99). To this day, I still think of these simple Swiss chocolates as the perfect gift; for Secret Santa surprises, for stockings, et al.

A sweet gesture, at one time, would be more than enough for all of us. Whether you’re buying for one or one-hundred this Christmas, gift with that in mind.

(Just please don’t buy me any more Toblerone, friends and family, because this realisation has instigated something of a hoarders situation.)
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A lot has happened since my first trip to Doha. Both personally and…Qatar-ily. In the three years that followed the country has pushed full steam ahead to build all things World Cup 2022, fallen into an unexpected diplomatic crisis (severing ties with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain), and developed faster than any country I’ve visited in my lifetime.

The skyline is no longer a skyline. What was once a handful of aspirant skyscrapers has become a pop-up book of investment, expansion and pride.

One which now harbours much more than you’d expect from the eminent stopover destination…

(All outfit details at the end of the post!)
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wine purifier
There is much ado about sulphites in the drinks industry. They breed contention; many aficionados say sulphites are essential to prevent oxidation and preserve freshness in wine. On the other hand, EU law tars sulphites as recognised allergens and insists their presence is acknowledged on bottle labels, even setting a maximum of 150mg per litre for red wines and 200mg per litre for white and rose.

The controversy piqued my interest and led me straight to a £70 ‘wine purifier’ I was sure I didn’t need.

The Ullo wine purifier seemed too stylish to be scientific, yet promised to remove sulphites with ‘Selective Sulfite Capture technology’, separate sediment, aerate and – wait for it – improve the taste of wine.

While I’m fortunate not to suffer from any sulphite allergies or sensitivities, I’m not fortunate to willfully ignore something telling me it will make something I love even better.

I ordered a few terrible bottles of wine and waited for my Ullo to arrive.

When it did, I found myself both impressed and bewildered. The luxe UFO masquerading as a purifier didn’t actually purify a thing. Without the accompanying filters, the Ullo is well-designed rubber and plastic.

I considered swapping the contraption for a bottle neck-friendly funnel, but persisted. And I’m glad I did. A night spent taste-testing mocked my scepticism. Each drop of wine that passed through Ullo’s tea bag-shaped filters came out the way, I’m sure, its winemakers wished it would. Each was increasingly pure, smooth and dangerously drinkable.

The Ullo did not, of course, make cheap vino more than mediocre. You can’t remove sulphites from something bad and call it good in the same way you can’t remove Harry Styles from One Direction and make them tolerable. Nothing can. But it will work wonders on wine you would actually drink.

The more I’ve used it since that pivotal trial, the more I’ve come to appreciate it. Friends with sulphite sensitivities have got on with every wine I’ve sat in front of them. I’ve felt a noticeable difference the morning after aerating Syrahs with the Ullo, compared to other aerators. I’ve wasted a filter on a glass of champagne (the filter, naturally, removes carbonation). And I’ve had a curiously crowd-pleasing device blow persnickety plonk lovers’ minds.

The Ullo has been far more useful than anticipated; particularly, its drip-proof display base that captures filter-caught droplets and stores the whole thing away neatly.

It is, annoyingly, as valuable as it is stylish. While a DIY filter and funnel system could do a similar job, the Ullo – and the wines you’re treating it to – deserves to be championed.

Science aside, it’s also a phenomenal way to trick your friends into thinking you’ve bought a bottle ten times more expensive than the one you got on offer. Ahem.

There’s simply no better way to remove sulphites, sediment and second thoughts.

wine purifier

You ask for it and you get it, guys and dolls: the bolognese recipe to beat all bolognese recipes. The rather impromptu Instagram Stories how-to I posted a few weeks ago received more comments than any other Story I have uploaded to date.

A lot of drool emojis. A lot of recipe requests. A lot of “why don’t you just use a packet sauce, Lela?”.

Because once you have the best you don’t mess with the rest, mi amigos.

Luckily, this bolognese looks (and tastes) far more complex than it is in practice. The recipe is all about layering flavours and textures, not any kind of culinary finesse. My favourite part of the recipe is actually its secret ingredient – a can of Nescafe Azera Nitro. I’ve only added it to the recipe within the last month and a few swigs of its super-smooth, nitrogen-infused coffee practically turns the moreish sauce into edible velvet.

(If that’s not selling point enough, it’s also worth noting that a caffeine and carb combo might be the undiscovered pick-me-up food hack of the century.)

Enjoy!

Ingredients:
– Your pasta of choice (I’m not going to be precious about it – the magic is in the sauce)
– A can of Nescafe Azera Nitro Americano (to taste)
– A glug of cheap red wine (scientific measurement)
– A box/tube/of high quality passata
– Three cloves of garlic
– One large carrot, finely chopped
– One onion, finely chopped
– An aubergine, some mushrooms, or whatever else you like the ‘squish’ of
– A 500g pack of beef mince (or a vegetarian substitute)
– One beef stock cube (again, so veggie if preferred)
– A large stalk of celery, finely chopped
– Two raw chillis
– One red pepper
– A lifetime supply or oregano (or about 10 tablespoons)
– Cacao nibs
– Two bay leaves
– High quality olive oil
– One tablespoon of truffle oil
– A sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano or grated cheddar
– Salt and pepper (to taste). A good salt, like Halen Mon (my favourite) or Maldon (more readily available), will make a huge difference.

How to make the best bolognese in the universe:
1. Chop all your veg to death. Microscopic style.
2. Throw your garlic, chillis and onion into a small pool of olive oil in a large frying pan. Cook at a medium-high heat for one to two minutes.
3. Add the rest of your chopped veg incrementally, based on weight. This translates to carrots first, celery last.
4. Season with salt and pepper once cooked and push to the side of the pan.
5. Next to the veg, pop your mince in and cover it in oregano. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Once one side is browned, flip the mince over neatly and oregano the bejesus out of the other side.
7. Break the mince down and combine with the veg. Add the truffle oil and sprinkle a beef stock cube over the mixture.
8. After a minute or so of cooking, cover everything in passata, sprinkle on some cacao nibs, and dust in as much dried chilli as you can handle.
9. While that cooks, prepare your pasta in a separate pan.
10. As the liquid begins to reduce, add glugs of wine and Azera Nitro Americano. The wine will add sweetness, if preferred, but I prefer to pour more coffee in. Taste as you go.
11. After ten or so minutes – when everything smells and tastes like you’ve died and gone to Italy – combine the sauce and pasta.
12. Dish out with some Parmigiano Reggiano and drink the rest of the wine you didn’t use. Bon appetit!

best bolognese recipe
best bolognese recipe
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little blue door london
It has been a hot minute since I’ve recommended a bar-first venue to you gastro-obsessed babes (takes one to know one!), but I think The Little Blue Door might just tick all your boxes.

Firstly, the concept is ridiculous. The venue itself is hidden behind a blue residential door and is managed by a ‘bunch of friendly flatmates’ who want you to treat their quirky little house like its your own.

If you’re not drinking the hipster Kool-aid, you’ll realise that it is – in fact – a bar. With food and cocktails. Like other bars.

What sets its apart is its infectious attitude. The Fulham-standard ‘flatmates’ are audacious, unusually attractive, and welcome you with the affection of a best friend at a house party. It’s weird. And wonderful.

Settling into their Shoreditch-style sitting room, I sifted through their list of cocktails (all based on the flatmates’ favourite films and TV shows) and settled on the Godfather Part II. Like revenge, it’s a drink best served cold, and blended a promising mix of Slane Irish Whisky, Disaronno, apple and cloves.

My mid-week sensibilities opted to steer clear of their house party hooches (like The Mick Jagger Bomb -Bombay Sapphire Gin, Crème de Violet, Maraschino & Prosecco) but bookmarked them for a future weekend visit to their ‘recovery buffet’.

The food, after all, was surprisingly great; the best philly cheese steak I’ve had this side of the Atlantic (with arguably better bread), a truffle-heavy mac & cheese, chips as crispy as their salt & pepper squid, and all the trimmings.

I planned my second visit (supper club, I’m coming!) before I finished my first. It’s a schismatic set-up but one every guest seemed to love – if that’s not blog-worthy, nothing is.

little blue door london
little blue door london
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