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25 November 2009

It's holid-a-a-a-a-y time

We are entering what is euphemistically called the 'holiday season'.  That period when we are too afraid to insult others by pointing out what we'll be doing during the month of December.  So being Jewish, it goes without saying I'd be horrified if anyone acknowledged that December 25th was Christmas, and similarly any Christians out there don't need to worry about the signficance of the eight days of Chanukah, and all of us can do as we did last year and turn to Google to remind ourselves what Kwanzaa is.  If I've missed out any holidays, do forgive me, I blame a combination of my ignorance and lack of political correctedness.

Nonetheless, whichever way you cut it, there be food and gifts in many of our immediate futures.

Because I assume there are others out there as ignorant as me, here is a quick summary of Chanukah: it is a celebration of light.  It commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple and the miracle that the Neir Tamid - the eternal flame - in the Temple stayed alight for eight days. 

But as I say, most people don't really care about the history, they want to know how we celebrate.  So the answer is with a bit of singing, but most importantly eating fried things, sfuganyot (doughnuts) are a particular favourite and giving gifts.  And as there are eight nights, tradition has it that you give gifts on each of those eight.

So, for those of you looking to give gifts to your foodie loving friends here are my top 8 recommendations for gifts:
  1. A subscription to Fire & Knives.  The first edition has just been published and it promises to be one of the more exciting developments in food writing.  Beautifully presented and packed full of articles from those you will have heard of and some you won't.  I was swiftly reminded that there is something visceral about the printed word that is sadly lacking from pixels on a screen.
  2. To continue the theme of the printed word, the cookbook I was both most pleased and saddest to see this year was the re-print of Floyd on Food.  The death of Keith Floyd was a sad moment, but this slim tome is a reminder of why so many of us held him in such affection.
  3. Last year I waxed lyrical about The Big Fat Duck Cookbook.  This year, they brought out the slimmer The Fat Duck Cookbook.  It's the same content but not with all the artsy fartsy presentation (which I still think was worth the money) which means that at current Amazon prices that is £19.21 against £78.94.
  4. Because this is Chanukah, we need a bit of a Jewish theme.  David Sax's Save the Deli, based on his excellent blog, has just been published.  It's a social history of Jews, primarily in the US told through the medium of meat.
  5. But of course, David Sax is actually talking about Ashkenazi food because there is no such thing as Jewish food in the same way there is no such thing as Indian food.  Geography is everything as Mama Nazima's Jewish Iraqi Cuisine reminds us.  It's not necessarily the most accessible of books, but it is a fascinating read into a dying culture.
  6. You'll need to be on your toes for all this reading so caffeine is a must.  You can't do better than a six or twelve month subscription from Square Mile Coffee Roasters.  You'll get some of the best coffees there are delivered to your door (or that of your loved one) every month.
  7. Whilst we're on the topic of hot drinks, it wouldn't be very British of me if I didn't mention tea.  And when I do mention tea the only person worth talking about is the Rare Tea Lady, Henrietta Lovell.   One of her finest offerings is the Jasmine Silver Tip, very possibly the best way to relax with your clothes on (or off, I suppose). 
  8. It wouldn't be a holiday without a bit of tipple and the drink of choice for so many of my brethren is whiskey - to do with laws on wine - and it doesn't come much better than Compass Box.  They're not easy to find, but they are worth digging out.  Although I'm not a Laphroaig fan The Peat Monster is pretty special.
Happy holidays one and all.


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