Sunday, 29 November 2009

Beery presents for your beery loved ones

As I write this, there are  26 days, 7 hours and 37 minutes worth of shopping time until Christmas.  Take out sleeping time, hangovers, getting ready to go out, tickling Captain's tummy, writing cards and having a bath, I think we're safe in saying that once again it'll be a mad panic involving last minute internet purchases and weeping on Oxford Street.

Some might argue that with a whole year's worth of beer ephemera, beer stories, beer events, beer tastings and general beer ramblings to contend with, the last thing that should find its way winkled into our beer-lover's Christmas stocking is anything beer-related.  But it's such a joy to see their little faces light up when they open something moderately interesting and beery that I can't resist.

Previous years have seen some modest successes (the customised beer labels I stuck onto a special IPA were particularly fine, as were the Pete's Bar coasters that still appear at parties) and, about 3 Christmasses ago, one spectacular backfire. Mr PBBB had been banging on endlessly about Sam Adams Utopias which, for the uninitiated, is, er, a nice strong beer that costs a lot.  That's if you can actually get hold of a bottle.  It's as rare as hens' teeth.  That particular year, I was reliably informed, you were lucky to get your hands on a bottle on Ebay for less than £200, such was its rarity value.  Now I love an impossible challenge more than most, so I scoured the internet determined to find one single bottle that I could present to Mr PBBB on Christmas Day, thus sprinkling some fairy dust on all of our lives.

Imagine my surprise and hand-clapping delight when I found out that Shepherd Neame had actually got a small consignment that meant, for £60 plus p&p, one rare, exclusive bottle could be mine.  I had it furtively shipped to my mate Joan's and allowed myself a little chuckle every day as I prepared for the big reveal.

One afternoon, just before Christmas, I came home to find a big box in the hall.  I took one look at the shipping label and squeaked 'what's this?', apparently loud enough even for humans to hear. 'You'll never guess!', said Mr PBBB, wrongly. 'TWO bottles of Sam Adams Utopias!"

I won't share my response online, in case you get some sort of 'Parental control protocols breached. Please report obscene content' alert pop up on screen, but you get the gist.

Anyway, this year I found this lovely company who make soaps made with some very nice beers indeed.  And these aren't just any 'beer soaps'.  You know, when the categories include 'witbiers', 'pilsners', 'bocks' and ales', that these guys know their stuff.  And you also know, if Mr PBBB opens a gift of 'San Francisco Beer, made with Anchor Steam California Common Steam Ale' that at the same time he's saying 'Oh, lovely, yep, I love it, great', he's thinking 'I'd rather drink it, not wash in it'.

I'm not sure if they come labelled 'do not lick', just in case, but they look jolly good and the shipping costs from the US aren't too bad.  If anyone fancies joining me in a bulk order, let me know.

I'm on the look out for other beery gifts that aren't too ghastly and which are allowed into our home (nothing with a big beery logo, branded t-shirts, more bloody beer glasses etc).

And if there are any beer guys reading this, don't get any ideas.  We prefer our toiletries from (worst) John Lewis or (best) Penhaligons.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

It's a dog thing

For those of you who haven't already done so, meet Captain.

Captain likes cheese, oatcakes and having his tummy rubbed. He's slightly scared of cats and does a strange little 'yip' when told to 'speak' for a treat. He doesn't slaver, bite, bark or growl menacingly at small children. He looks cute and when he's lying down he sort of spatchcocks his back legs and looks like a small rug. He's pretty much the perfect pub dog.

But it's still hit and miss trying to find pubs in Stoke Newington that allow dogs in. And given the state of some of them, Captain would be the least likely contender for the 'peeing against a wall' or 'biting someone on the leg' prize.

We've got some nice pubs in Stokey, and perhaps it's the proliferation of staffies with goons attached that's turned landlords off, but still...  The slate-floored Rose & Crown? Nope. The trad-pub Daniel Defoe, whose previous owners used to own 2 springer spaniels who sat on bar stools? Nope. The sweet and, let's face it, not desperately chi-chi Auld Shillaleagh? Nope. The Three Crowns (ridiculously priced food, thinks it's in the West End)? Nope. And as they've just taken over The Red Lion and are gussying it up, presumably not there either.

And there's nothing more irritating than being told it's 'against the law' or a 'health and safety' issue. Much as Captain loves having a wander into the kitchen to check out the chicken situation (with his 'no-one loves me' face on), as long as we have a well-behaved dog who sits under our table, I can't see the problem.

Andy, landlord at our favourite local, The White Hart, has the best rule. Dogs on a lead at all times. No ifs, no buts. He applies the same sort of rule to kids, with the result that all are welcome, but have to be on reasonable behaviour. Perfect. We know that if Captain disgraced himself, he'd be barred. Same for Mr PBBB.

Anyway, if you're in the area, here are my recommendations.

The Charles Lamb, Islington - the delightful, if slightly portly, Mascha the pub dog even has hand-painted 'please do not feed Mascha' signs all over the pub.
The Scolt Head, Islington (resident 1-year old Jack Russell called Monkey and occasional visiting small dogs Elsa and Podge)
The White Hart, Stoke Newington- great beer garden too
The Island Queen, Islington
The Alma, Newington Green
The Hemingford Arms (despite the brass sign on the door saying 'no dogs')
The Albion - Islington's loveliest pub allows dogs in the front bar
The Duke of Cambridge - organic pub
The Spaniard's Inn - possibly the best doggy-pub ever, complete with gourmet dog treats on sale in the bar and a dog-washing machine (featured in Mr PBBB's blog when Captain was 'volunteered' for a Flying Dog photo shoot - oh how we laughed)

And do visit the brilliant doggy pubs website which has just unearthed some others I wasn't aware of.

Now Captain and I are off to the White Hart to meet Mr PBBB who's been 'working' there since 4:30.  And I think we all know I don't mean pulling pints....

Sunday, 15 November 2009

What stormy days are for

When the rain's lashing against the windows and the wind is buffeting the city, there's nothing better than some methodical coring, chopping, mixing and stirring to make the most of time indoors. Yesterday saw my very first batch of chutney - a spicy pear and kiwi one courtesy of Waitrose Food Illustrated - and I now have 3 (there were 4 but I got all carried away and gave one to our dinner guests) jars of gently maturing Mrs PBBB chutney in the larder.

The only problem is that after I've given one to BLTP in exchange for his recently made pickled onions and donated one to the Welsh rellies, there's only one jar left for Christmas.

And I still haven't made the Christmas Pudding - the fruit's perfectly happy to continue marinading in the vintage Queen's Ale (I had to make Mr PBBB get out of the bowl) until we get back from dog-walking, then it's the Big Mix and all that boiling-in-some-water-mallarkey, a batch of Nigella's Chilli Jelly and we're all set for Boxing Day cold cuts and bubble & squeak.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

I'm Queen

Budge up, Delia, love, there's room at the back.

The last time I made Christmas Pudding I was at school and I grated half my finger into the mix, thus rendering it unsuitable for vegetarians.

This time things are a little more exciting, thanks to the divine Steve Wellington, who sent Mr PBBB back to London with a bottle of Queen's Ale, which is what Her Madge gets to sample in her very own royal pudding.

It was a touching hand-over from Mr PBBB, who obviously wanted to snatch it away and spend the rest of the year with it clutched to his chest, rocking gently. But hand it over he did, god love him, and it's now gently plumping up about a kilo of Waitrose's finest raisins, currants, sultanas, cherries and mixed peel.

I've combined several recipes, which means that either it's going to be delish or a total and utter disaster from which Mr PBBB will never recover (he'll be sucking the Queen's Ale from the burnt husk of the pudding way into June).

So fingers crossed for the big mix tomorrow. Tradition dictates that everyone who stirs it makes a wish. I wish for a non-beer-related Christmas present. Pete wishes the Queen's Ale was in his tummy.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

We're revolting

Poor old Mr PBBB hasn't half had some gyp since yesterday.

The lovely Mark Dredge wrote a moving tribute to his long-suffering girlfriend Lauren, which I forwarded to Mr PBBB saying something along the lines of 'this is what a nice beer writer does', although I may have also suggested he boil his head at the same time.

Apparently I should look in more detail at the acknowledgments on his 3 books which 'go on in length about how lovely you are'. Hmm. That's all very nice and what-have-you but I think all beer widows out there know that one mention every couple of years is sparse recompense. A more regular celebration of our patience, fortitude and tolerance in the form of flowers, chocolate and possibly a small house in the Dordogne wouldn't go amiss.

At the risk of sounding ungracious, being presented with 'beer I thought you'd really like' from foreign trips doesn't really cut the mustard. And it was a very misplaced 'joke' when I was given a red pointy promotional hat with a bell on it last time he came back from Belguim (apparently Belguim had sold out of ALL of the chocolate for which it is world-famous...).

We can spot airport gifts at the drop of a (red pointy) hat and no we don't even like promotional glasses - however pretty their shape - though thanks for trying.

I have the loveliest husband in the world and appreciate much of what beerdom brings. However, I'd love to hear from other beer widows (we hope that the lovely Melissa Cole's husband won't be offended by an invite too) so we can swap notes - I'm thinking shopping survival tactics, beer-conversation-stoppers and a universally agreed, mutually beneficial word for 'PLEASE can we talk about something else apart from sodding beer?'