Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Chinese New Year in London

Chinese New Year started on 26th January 2009 and lasts for 15 days. This year it is the Year of the Ox and London traditionally holds the capital's Chinese New Year celebrations on the first Sunday after Chinese New Year's Day – which is Sunday 1st February.

Trafalgar Square is hosting the main stage which showcases traditional and contemporary Chinese arts from 12-6pm with performances by artists from Qinghai and Kunming in China, plus lion and dragon dances.

You will find lion dances in China Town, performances for local artists on Shaftesbury Avenue, fireworks in Leicester Square as well as lots of stalls selling cultural items and decorations.

If you get hungry along the way, simply stop off and refuel at one of Chinatown's many restaurants, or the food court in Trafalgar Square.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Drinks That Were Made Famous - Blue Nun and Victoria Beckham

In 2004 Victoria Beckham stunned everyone at a photo shoot by sending out for two bottles of Blue Nun wine. It turns out that the sweet white wine is one of Victoria's favourite drinks. Fashion is a fickle thing and wines that were the in thing one minute soon become the one item that you wouldn't dream of being associated with the next. Back in the 70s Blue Nun was the popular toast at any dinner party and then its street cred dropped. Now a new generation of wine drinkers – who won't remember their fall from fame – are being encouraged to try the revamped wines which have undergone the vintners equivalent of a makeover.

Like Black Tower, Blue Nun has added to its repertoire with a rosé – Blue Nun Pink - and is reaching out to the bling market with Gold Edition, a sparkling wine which contains fine flakes of 22-carat gold leaf, designed to “highlight its natural effervescence.” Personally gold flakes in wine do nothing for me – it's the wine in the bottle that counts and I don't fancy picking gold leaf out of my teeth!

Blue Nun was launched by the company Sichel in 1923 with the 1921 vintage, and which between the 1950s and 1980s was probably the largest international wine brand. Beginning in the 1950s, Blue Nun was advertised as a wine that could be drunk throughout an entire meal, thereby eliminating the often intimidating problem of wine and food pairing. Blue Nun can be said to have been the first wine to have been produced and effectively marketed with an international mass market in mind.

After World War II, the brand became spectacularly popular in the UK and the USA, selling for the same price as a second growth red Bordeaux!

There is no doubt that German wine is making a comeback in the UK thanks to better wine making practices and a drier wine style however I am not sure that wine in a can or that wine with gold flakes will stand the test of time.

Will I be blogging in 10 years time about these retro wines and their gimmicks? I don't think so. Though Victoria Beckham may still get a mention!

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Drinks That Were Made Famous - Dubonnet

The late Queen Mother was a loyal fan of a daily gin and Dubonnet. In 2008 a hand written note from the Queen Mother instructing her former royal page William Tallon to pack Dubonnet and gin for an outing sold for £16,000. The letter was the most expensive item among 700 mementoes collected by Mr Tallon that went under the hammer. Mr Tallon worked for the Royal Household for 51 years and later became the Queen Mother's Steward.

Dubonnet was first sold in 1846 by Joseph Dubonnet and is now owned by Pernod Ricard. It's apparently the favourite tipple of the French Foreign Legion. It's a wine based aperitif and is made by combining white and red grapes from the Mediterranean area and Roussillon and is flavoured with a secret mixture of herbs and spices (quinquina bark, bitter orange peel, camomile, cinnamon and green coffee).

Friday, 16 January 2009

Sex and the City – and Cocktails

Apparently US Weekly have featured signature cocktails for each of the 4 femmes fatale in the block buster film of Sex and the City, all of them using Skyy vodka. The film has been hailed as one of the top rated romantic comedies of all time and made an unprecedented £38 million in 3 days.

There is a second movie in the works and filming is expected to begin in the Summer of 2009. My favourite character is Samantha, played by Kim Cattrall – although I don't fancy the cocktail they have concocted for her. I thought she was more the Bloody Mary type of girl!

The Charlotte (Kristin Davis): vodka, Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, Amaretto, Godiva chocolate
liqueur and half-and-half.

The Samantha (Kim Cattrall): vodka, Sammy Hagar's Cabo Wabo anejo tequila, simple syrup and lime juice.

The Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker): vodka, triple sec, mango juice, lime juice and simple syrup.

The Miranda (Cynthia Nixon): vodka, Campari, pomegranate juice and triple sec.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Celebrity Cocktails – Greta Garbo and Ginger Rogers

Although Greta Garbo was considered one of the most glamorous movie stars of the 1920s and 1930s she was also famous for shunning publicity, which became part of her mystique. Despite this she never gave up her glamorous lifestyle and kept smoking and drinking cocktails until the end. Her first line in the the talkies was “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side, and don’t be stingy, baby.” Her famous byline, "I want to be alone," is quoted as coming from her role in Grand Hotel. She never married and left her fiancé, John Gilbert, standing at the altar in 1927 when she got cold feet about her wedding.

The Greta Garbo

1 part Brandy
1 part Dry Vermouth
1 part Orange juice
¼ part Grenadine
dash of Crème de Menthe

Unlike her famous dancing partner, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers has a cocktail named after her. Rogers came from Welsh ancestry on her mother's side and Scottish ancestry on her fathers – maybe that's where she got got her famous red hair from. She had a film career spanning 50 years and made a total of 73 films. Apparently Ginger was a little testy about comparisons with her famous partner and liked the cartoon caption that quipped that she “did everything Fred Astaire did, except backwards and in high heels”.

The Ginger Rogers

1 part dry Gin
1 part dry Vermouth
1 part Apricot Brandy
4 dashes of Lemon juice

Mix the ingredients well with ice and serve in a chilled cocktail glass.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Celebrity Cocktails - Marlene Dietrich and Charlie Chaplin

Marlene Dietrich is one of the most the iconic actresses of all time and her career took off in 1929 when she landed the breakthrough role of Lola-Lola in the film The Blue Angel where she sang her signature song, Falling In Love Again. Ernest Hemingway thought that "if she had nothing more than her voice, she could break your heart with it.”

Dietrich was famous for her looks and at the age of 66 in South Africa a male admirer commented "This woman is just like wine, the older, the better!" Apparently Marlene Dietrich used to suck on lemons to keep her facial muscles taut and the cocktail named after her is topped with a wedge of both lemon and orange.

The Marlene Dietrich

3 parts Canadian whisky
2 dashes of Angostura bitters
2 dashes of Curaçao

Shake with ice cubes and serve on the rocks with a wedge of both lemon and orange.

Josef Sternberg, who "discovered" Marlene, worked with Charlie Chaplin on a film funded by Chaplin for his protégé, Edna Purviance. Though the film was completed, Chaplin never released it. Charlie Chaplin was famous for his tipsy antics in his films One AM (1916) and Pay Day (1922) and he had developed his comedy-drunk act while paying his dues in Britain's music halls. Indeed, he was performing it with Fred Karno's Company on his second tour of the United States when he was spotted by a scout for Mack Sennett's Keystone studio. So, it's rather fitting that he should become the first film star to have a cocktail named after him.

The recipe was invented at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Vigorous shaking is recommended as the liquid is rather thick.

The Charlie Chaplin

1 part Apricot Brandy
1 part Sloe Gin
1 part fresh Lime juice

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Celebrity Cocktails – Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks

Given the interest in celebrities and their favourite tipples I thought it would be fun to see who had had cocktails named after them. Movie stars have helped to immortalize the cocktail, both on and off the screen. The first words Greta Garbo uttered on screen were “Gimme a whiskey, ginger ale on the side, and don’t be stingy, baby.”

Asked about how she was mixed up in a delicate situation, Mae West replied, “Like an olive in a dry Martini.”

These celebrities all have cocktails named after them. The Mary Pickford, named for the early motion picture icon, is one of the earliest. It was so popular in its time that Douglas Fairbanks, who later married Pickford, asked a bartender in Cuba to name a cocktail after him. The bartender did. They were Hollywood's first celebrity marriage in the 1920s with the public going wild over the idea of “Everybody's Hero” marrying “America's Sweetheart” and were greeted by crowds of up to 300,000 people in London and Paris during their European honeymoon.

The Mary Pickford

1 part light Rum
1 part unsweetened Pineapple juice
¼ tsp Grenadine
¼ tsp Maraschino liqueur
Maraschino cherry

Shake the rum, pineapple juice, grenadine, and maraschino liqueur with ice; then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a maraschino cherry.

The Douglas Fairbanks

2 parts Plymouth Gin
1 part dry Vermouth

Shake well with ice and strain into a chilled glass. A little orange peel adds dash to the finished product.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Gordon Ramsay Endorses Bordeaux

On the subject of celebrity endorsements chef Gordon Ramsay has given his official seal of approval to a wine - according to Jane Anson at the New Bordeaux blog - allowing his signature to appear on all bottles. The wine in question is not an expensive top flight one but a consistently good one that is just celebrating 10 years as the house wine in all Ramsay restaurants: Chateau Bauduc in Creon, Entre Deux Mers. It's owned by an English couple, Gavin and Angela Quinney, who went out there some years ago now.

Most of the production is sold direct to a loyal following of around 3000 private customers, mostly through the Bauduc website and the newsletter, and the Quinneys have their own warehouse near London.

It just goes to show that there are many great wines from petit chateaux in France that the general public within the UK have not discovered yet which the French snap up at source. Insider knowledge is a useful tool. Check out Nick's selection at

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Crunk Juice

If Dr Dre does drink his own Cognac then it'll inevitably be used in Crunk Juice (for those of you yet to discover this concoction it is a mix of Cognac and Red Bull) - having tried it I can heartily say that it is the worst celebrity inspired cocktail I've ever drunk.

It's advocated by rappers such as Lil Jon (on his CD titled "Crunk Juice"). Lil John also makes wine at his California winery and also markets his own energy drink, called Crunk. I hope the wine is better than the cocktail.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Dr Dre and Aftermath Cognac

I often wonder if celebrity endorsed or produced drinks are worth it? Does the name behind them lead to increased sales or is it a publicity stunt? Dr Dre has already announced his brand of Sparkling Vodka and it seems that the Cognac is to be released in conjunction with Dr Dre's final album Detox.

Dr Dre's drinks are part of a joint venture with Drinks America which also markets Donald Trump Vodka and Willie Nelson Whiskey, though why Donald Trump has released a premium vodka I don't know as he is an avowed teetotaller. As for Willie Nelson's whiskey - he apparently told the New Yorker a few years ago that he doesn't really drink much any more, claiming his wife got him "into rice milk and now soy milk, which I greatly enjoy. A soy mocha's a fine thing." Hmmm. I wonder if Dr Dre will be drinking his own Cognac?

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Twelfth Night Cake

Twelfth Night not only marks the end of Christmas, when all decorations have to be taken down to avoid bad luck but is also one of the most important days in the Christian calendar, as it marks the Feast of the Epiphany, when the Three Wise Men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar, arrived in Bethlehem to behold the Christ child.

The word 'epiphany' comes from the Greek word for manifestation, and was chosen because this was the night on which the Christ child, called 'the King of the Jews', was manifested to the Gentiles.

Twelfth Night also has origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain and the Roman Saturnalia where a Lord of Misrule was appointed. During this time the ordinary rules of life were turned upside down as masters served their slaves, and the offices of state were held by slaves. This tradition carried over down the centuries and in the 5th century the French and English celebrated The Feast of Fools and temporary Bishops and Archbishops of Fools play-acted, revelled, and created mischief. By the 15th century it was banned from church by the French government due to lewd behaviour. A new street festival was created and a temporary king for the season called a Prince des Sots was elected.

At the beginning of the Twelfth Night festival a cake which contained a bean was eaten. The person who found the bean would be King for the night. Midnight signalled the end of his rule and the world would return to normal. The common theme was that the normal order of things was reversed.

By the early 19th century, the cake itself had become very elaborate, with sugar frosting and gilded paper trimmings, often decorated with delicate figures made of plaster of Paris or sugar paste. It remained the centrepiece of the party, although the bean and pea of earlier times were usually omitted.

Twelfth Night Cake

Twelfth Night Cake can be shaped like a polo mint and decorated with gaudy icing and gold beads so feel free to let loose your creative side!

a bean!
350g butter
350g caster sugar
6 eggs, beaten
75ml brandy
350g plain flour
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
700g mixed dried fruit
50g blanched almonds, chopped
45g apricot jam
900g marzipan
4 egg whites
900g icing sugar
3 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp glycerine
candied fruit to decorate

Cream the butter and sugar together and gradually add the beaten eggs, mixing well after each addition then add the brandy. Fold-in the flour, spices, fruit and nuts and your bean. Grease a deep cake tin and line the bottom and sides with greaseproof paper. Tip the cake mixture into this and place the cake in an pre heated oven Remove the cake from the oven when cooked (you can test this by sticking a skewer into the centre of the cake – if it has no residue on it when removed, the cake is cooked). Allow to cool in its tin for 30 minutes then tip onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

Once cold cover the surface of the cake with the apricot jam. Roll out the marzipan and cut just enough of the paste to go around the side of the cake. Then roll the remainder of the marzipan out and use to cover the top of the cake. Prepare the icing by lightly beating the egg whites and incorporating the icing sugar into this to form a stiff paste. Add the lemon juice and glycerine and incorporate well. Then, using a palette knife spread the icing all the way around the sides and top of the cake. Decorate with the candied fruit.

Serve with Sauternes!

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Spring 2009 Fashion Colours

Pantone have released their Colour Report for Spring 2009 and after the rise of blues and purples in the Autumn they have appeared again for the Spring:

“Bright colours return to the top 10 list for spring ’09, as designers incorporate vibrant pops into their collections, yet temper the vibrancy with deeper, translucent or neutral tones.

“New York’s fashion designers encourage hopeful attitudes with lively colours, while sophisticated, grounded hues address the need for stability in times of economic uncertainty,” said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute®.

Palace Blue, a favourite among designers this season, takes a steadfast, classic, spring navy-like tone and makes it sparkle. Paired with just about any colour in the report, it offers many intriguing spring combinations.

Taking purple in a lighter direction, Lavender presents a softer, more summery hue, extending the mystical aspects of purple available last fall.

As yellow continues to make its mark on the world of fashion, tangy Super Lemon brings a fun, optimistic outlook to the palette. Its luminosity is determined to evoke a smile and attract the roving consumer’s eyes.

Taking a cue from its lemony neighbour, friendly and approachable Salmon Rose also conveys an optimistic outlook. The subtlest of oranges, Salmon Rose is flattering to most complexions and is beautiful with a summer glow.

Think sensual and seductive Fuchsia Red for clothing, as well as lipstick and nail polish selections, this spring. With its blue undertones, this cool red is a real show-stopper, adding a sense of elegance to the palette.

Stabilizing neutrals provide practicality in a changing economic landscape. Not your average beige, Rose Dust breaks away from the typical neutrals associated with spring by adding dimension with subtle rose undertones.

And with its bluish-green undertones, cool Slate Gray is a nuanced neutral that can be paired with any of the other nine colours in the report.

Three greens, each with their own distinct personality, round out the colour palette for spring ‘09, perpetuating the idea of freshness and renewal. Vibrant Green, the quintessential spring hue, brings a true verdancy to the palette in a time of revitalization.

Dark Citron, a citrus-inspired green, is calmer and more serious than most, offering an element of sophistication to the mix.

Reflective Lucite Green, a clean, clear subtle hue, adds a slight shimmer.

Friday, 2 January 2009

New Iron Man Movie May Not Be Based on Demon In A Bottle

There is gossip that the new Iron Man movie being developed for release in 2010 may not be based on Marvel comics newest epic Demon In a Bottle. The comic book depicts Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.) battling with his demon: Rum and filming is due to start in March 2009. Demon in A Bottle is seen as one of the freshest story lines yet in the 15 years since the first Iron Man comic hit the shelves but the Director, Jon Favreau, is concerned that the film may be too similar to Will Smith's character in Hancock.

Favreau told Collider that, "Comic book fans might see "Demon in a Bottle" as a fresh story line, but I haven’t seen Hancock yet. From what I’ve seen it seems there is a lot of imagery that seems to be shared. Him flying through billboards and things. The idea of the hero whose biggest enemy is himself, and him fighting through his demons [may be played out, so] you want to come at the audience with something fresh."