Calm

Politics are in uproar.

It feels like a full time job just keeping up with the news.

My recommended antidote is a cold, strong one; the silver bullet; the elixir of quietude.

Plus dogs/cats/plants if you have any to hand.

Here is my weekend cure: a classic gin martini with a twist of lemon.

The lemons came from the Co-op which I believe to provide the best store-brand lemons in the country.

They are almost always fresh, shiny, unwaxed and completely bursting with tasty lemon oil when you lightly squeeze the delectable rind.

I also made my own Bombay mix to go with it. I bought some wholewheat noodle nests but loads of bits of them had broken off, so I took all the loose scraps and deep-fried them with some peanuts and cashew nuts I had in the cupboard.

I then wok-fried some mustard seeds and threw in the noodle-nut mixture when the seeds started to pop. I stirred quickly, chucked in some curry leaves, a teaspoon of curry power, a sprinkle of salt and a grind of black pepper then stirred it quickly to mix it all up. I then tipped it onto a plate to cool down.

When it comes to texture, is there anything better than deep frying? Probably not.

There’s also something I find very comforting about South Asian flavours, but you could do this with all sorts of things. Maybe stir in some shredded nori seaweed or furikake at the last minute. Smoked paprika? Sea salt?

Whatever you choose, amid constitutional court rulings, impeachment proceedings and climate change, the resulting moment of peace that accompanied my citrusy martini and snacks was exactly what I needed.

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Since my last post…

If you are still signed up to receive my updates, thank you, hello and apologies for not updating this blog in over two years.

In 2016 I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stemming from a couple of intense episodes in my life.

I am now on the cusp of completing what has been an enlightening but difficult period of psychological treatment, courtesy of our under-supported but incredible National Health Service (NHS).

I had been using martinis as a self-medication crutch (a sadly common issue with PTSD sufferers) and realised I was no longer enjoying them the same way I used to.

I have also spent the last few years working very hard to transition my career away from the world of intelligence to something more tech based, so I’ve been busy learning new coding languages and building digital platforms.

One of these platforms is a travel advice website called Starling Safety.

It contains safety reports on countries around the world. Users can also leave safety comments and reviews for one another on locations that they know. It’s like a TripAdvisor equivalent but for risk and safety related issues.

It’s free to use and you are more than welcome to have a look whenever you want to know how safe somewhere is before you visit.

I would be delighted if you could also please register and leave some comments on locations that you know. The more information everyone contributes to the site the better it will be for us all

In a bid to build up my fitness I’ve also started running a half marathon every weekend. This has been tough but rewarding (it’s also part of my treatment).

If you’re interested in the links between trauma, therapy and running (or other exercise) I thoroughly recommend my friend Caroline’s podcast “Of Mountains and Minds” where she interviews some truly inspiring people who have overcome major adversity in their lives.

Needless to say, the last few years have been interesting – but tough – indeed for many of us.

Now it’s time to get some fun back into my life again. I thought a return to the blog would be a positive step. I’ve missed reviewing bars. I’ve missed experimenting. And I’ve really missed connecting with fellow martini enthusiasts from around the world.

So I’m back in the blogging game again and I’m looking forward to updating you all with my return to the martiniverse.

It truly is the most elegant drink around.

And if any of you would like to talk about mental health issues, please get in touch.

Chin chin (up).

The London Bar at Gatwick Airport

I had to fly last minute from London to Glasgow.

I was in Gatwick South terminal on a Saturday night. I had come through security but I hadn’t had dinner or a much needed martini. So off I went in search of something to quench my thirst.

The expensive caviar bar downstairs in the south terminal sadly doesn’t do martinis, although it has some exquisite vodkas and accompanying nibbles. 

Instead, I wandered upstairs and came across what looked to be my oasis in the desert: The London Bar.


Martinis were on the menu for £10, with the seeming ability to choose which gin or vodka you would like it made from.

I was quickly served by a friendly member of staff who asked if I wanted gin or vodka, but this seemed to be the extent of my choice. I was served Bombay Saphire without being asked if I would prefer an alternative. I was disappointed, given that they had an impressive selection including Martin Miller’s, the Botanist and Jensens gin, although Bombay is a suitable choice. 

Nonetheless, my server earned back points by using Noilly Prat as the vermouth and the drink was stirred, not shaken, which is to my preference, although a choice should be offered to the customer.

They offered me an olive in the martini as a garnish or lemon peel if I preferred which was another point earner. I chose lemon as per usual. Anyone can drop an olive in a glass but in handling a lemon a server reveals their skill and consideration. 

My server also peeled an exceptionally generous ribbon of lemon peel and wrapped it around a straw over the glass to impart a significant amount of lemon oil into the drink.


Again, this is to my preference as I like my lemon oil, although it is customary to use a smaller length of peel. Some drinkers prefer only a finger-nail-sized piece to flavour the drink. 

Furthermore, the garnish was so large that towards the end of the drink it kept falling from the glass onto my face like an unwarranted kiss from an unwanted lover.


Personally, even though I am a lemon fan, I would usually cut and shape the garnish after squeezing its oil into the glass.

This means that it looks nicer and you don’t have to wrestle the garnish with your face every time you drink. 

The size of the glass is also worth pointing out.

It is the correct size for a larger cocktail with several ingredients, but for a dry martini it was very disproportionate.


The setting was relatively cool, but as an airport lounge it’s always going to have a natural air of excitement. I liked the lighting around the bottles. It was what caught my eye in the first place. I found the seats slightly uncomfortable after 20 minutes, but luckily “the martini had landed” by this point. Otherwise, some of the seats had plug sockets to charge your devices, which was handy.

The only other thing I would recommend for a good martini would be to at least have the house gin and glasses kept in the freezer. Of course, space is at a premium in a small bar but I would pay premium for a good martini. Otherwise, at £10 per drink I would say that it’s not the best martini you’re ever going to have, but it’s good value for your money in an airport lounge.

If you go, specify which gin or vodka you would like in advance. And don’t miss your flight. 

Spring weekend

It’s been a while since my last post so I thought I would put up a brief update on my nice weekend.


We had the first properly warm weather of the year.


It was warm enough to light the garden fire pit and have a martini outside before dinner.


It’s so nice to get outside again. I took this picture because I thought the lower part of the log resembled sliced shime saba


We also got the chance to go to Calgary beach.


Canadians take note – this was where many islanders took the boat west to settle on your shores during the Highland Clearances.

These images are actually taken from the ruins of one of the abandoned settlements.

Evidently those who once lived here and moved to the New World named one of the more successful Canadian settlements after the bay.


Calgary in Alberta has since grown to a much larger size than the original!


On returning home I prepared some izakaya-style skewers for the barbecue. The above is lamb liver with spring onion, dipped in a sweet soy glaze with garlic and vermouth. Grilled for about 4-5 minutes on each side they went well with a drink, although I need to practise my barbecue skills.


I also wrapped asparagus with prosciutto and grilled for about 2 minutes on each side.


Easy and tasty.


After that it was time for drinks.


And our first sunset of the year enjoyed from the garden.

Sweet martini accompaniments

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Normally I would only ever serve savoury snacks to accompany a martini, but there have been a small number of exceptions. I don’t have a sweet tooth but some of you might, so this is for you.

I made some umami tuna steaks for a friend for dinner (thank you Laura Santtini for the recipe). We had a martini as an apéritif before the meal but then wanted another one after we had eaten as well… I guess as a digestif.

After the umami flavour of dinner, my friend asked for something sweet to follow. I rarely eat dessert but I had one or two sweet items to hand – although they were perhaps a little unconventional, not just as a pudding, but also as a martini accompaniment.

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I served maraschino cherries.

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And some cherry sherbet. Which looks a little bit like cocaine.

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But let’s be honest, if you’re drinking martinis, who needs drugs?

  
On another occasion I dipped some maraschino cherries in some Tobermory dark chocolate which went nicely as a digestif accompaniment.

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I do NOT approve of this but some of my friends do… 

 

Cape gooseberries make a nice, subtle citrus accompaniment. I would actually consider serving them alongside savoury martini snacks.

  
Lychees can work. 


Lots of lychees can also work.


Especially if served as part of a lychee martini.

  
This sweet popcorn went quite nicely with an after-dinner espresso martini.

  
Here is a late-night martini I served with some chocolate-covered almonds.

  
Here is some homemade Scottish tablet, referred to by some of my friends in England as “sugar heroin”. It’s not particularly healthy but it tastes amazing and is a nice pick-me-up after a meal.


Even someone like me likes the odd bit of chocolate in the evening, especially during the winter months. Here is a small selection of rough pieces served on a cold, rainy night in Scotland. 


Finally, how can you beat this Italian classic? The affogato (which means ‘drowned’) combines ice cream drenched in an espresso, in this case served perfectly in a martini glass.

Thank you Italy for taking us, once again, to the next level.

A Harris Gin Martini


On the day that one of the worst things ever associated with the Hebrides is inaugurated as president of the United States of America, I thought I would highlight one of the loveliest things to arise from this part of the world.


Harris Gin is so easy for me to blog about. Introduced to me by my generous cousin from Stornoway, it’s exceptional in many ways. The smooth, mellow cleanliness of the finish, the understated yet distinctive botanicals and its striking branding make it a real breakout character in the myriad of today’s craft gin explosion.


From a martini perspective it is distinctive enough to warrant a different preparation technique to other gins.


The first impression you have of this gin is its distinctive glassware. I normally prefer my bottles plain, simple and functional, but in a very competitive market the evocative watery swirls of the Harris bottle stand out well from the competition.

Made to order in Europe, they actually suffered a (non-Brexit-related) shortage of the bottles in 2016 which almost sparked panic but otherwise hopefully only made the heart grow fonder of this unique drink. I’m told that you can take your empty bottles back to the distillery and have them refilled at a reduced tat. What a wonderful idea – and great for the local population.


The company emphasises it’s community involvement, something important to me, many islanders, and increasingly the discerning consumers of the world who want to purchase sustainable, considerately-made products. I’ve also heard that their community gin-tasting events can be quite a night…


In terms of the taste, I usually say that I prefer my martinis to lead with juniper, followed by mellow citrus notes. Harris gin captures this perfectly, but with the unusual use of bitter orange, lime and grapefruit rather than the more traditional lemon. This subtle variation means that it is not my standard gin of choice.


Instead, it is an exotic alternative for when you want something excellent, and slightly different from the norm. It is for special occasions and esteemed guests, not just any old Friday.


Notably, one of the main botanicals is sugar kelp, harvested in Hebridean waters so as to impart a soft and clean oceanic umami.


The distillers recommend serving it on ice with a little sugar kelp aromatic water, although it can also be served with a slice of grapefruit or lime.


For a martini, the gin should be stored in the freezer for several hours.

I would recommend serving it dry, even if you normally like your martinis medium or sweet. The gin is smooth enough and has very little fire so you don’t need much vermouth to calm it down.

Naturally it should be stirred in the glass and never shaken. You don’t want the drink agitated or – heaven forbid – watered down.


Glass, gin and drink should be chilled and still, with a minimal garnish only. Olives and citrus peel could crowd out the gin’s delicate flavours.


Indeed you could serve it zen-like and sans-garnish. The only thing garnishing the martini above is the ice stalactite which formed on the glass when it was in the freezer. You don’t want to mask the botanicals which are well-preserved and easily appreciated with the drink’s smooth finish.


A dash of the sugar kelt aromatic water might be a nice addition to the martini, although I haven’t tried it yet. Consider it added to my to-do list.


As an alternative garnish to evoke the gin’s coastal botanicals you could serve it with a sliver of kelp.


If you can’t find your own on the beach (to thoroughly rinse, lightly boil then cut) you can buy konbu kelp from an Asian supermarket.

Wipe a sheet with a damp cloth then soak it for an hour or two.

Cut it into garnish-sized pieces, then serve as a sliver or rolled on a toothpick.


This should evoke the sea, its fresh produce and island life.

Apparently Hebidean children used to chew raw kelp as a snack. These were the days before chocolate and haribo but I can assure you it would have been an excellent source of iodine and other nutrients, even in he dark winter months.


Naturally a Harris martini would work well paired with seafood. The cold, bountiful waters of a North Atlantic bathed in the Gulf Stream provide the Hebrides with some of the best seafood in the world.


If you’re in the islands, a friend or relative in the fishing industry must always be rewarded for providing fruit-du-mer in a plastic bag as is the norm. A healthy round or two of martinis could work as payment, for example. Deprived mainlanders will have to make do with a fish mongers.

A Hume Country Clothing image.

Harris, home of Harris tweed (illustrated above), has firmly established itself as a brand associated with good quality. This will only be enhanced by the gin, which I am told has secured the sort of funding which should ensure its success and much-earned endurance in the long term.


Having only visited the island when I was below legal drinking age I have not had a chance to sample it’s alcoholic delights in-situ, but with beautiful beaches and rapturous sunsets I think it’s time for a revisit.


You can find out more about the gin here. They deliver all over the world.

Mums Limoncello from the Last Milennium

We were clearing up the house after taking down all the Christmas decorations and we came across this mysterious bottle.


Okay okay… I say “mysterious” but actually, as soon as I saw it I knew exactly what it was.

Sometime in the last few years mum made some limoncello with vodka and lemon rind then left it to season. Obviously we forgot about it and it even managed to accompany us undetected through a house-move. I’m not quite sure how this happened but there you go.


So obviously I wanted to (a) taste it and (b) use it in martini form somehow.


A few years back a man in Beirut told me he liked to add a teaspoon or two of limoncello to his martinis to give them a nice, citrusy note.

So that’s what I did.


I chucked the limoncello into the freezer for a few hours, although note that some limoncellos might freeze. Mum’s was suitably alcoholic that it did not.


Add one teaspoon to a normal martini (the standard recipe is here) and stir it with your piece of lemon peel. Serve.


It adds a nice lemon aftertaste but is a little sweet, so consider using less vermouth than normal if you want to try this out.


It’s also worth noting that this makes an excellent substitute if you find yourself without any fresh lemons. Remember – these are crucial for making a standard martini (unless you’re having it dirty or you’ve got a very good or distinctive gin to taste). A teaspoon of limoncello might be a nicer to impart a lemon flavour than using a dab of lemon oil which I sometimes resort to.


The limoncello also goes very nicely added to a gin and tonic (with a 50:50 gin:limoncello ratio).


So act now: buy some limoncello, make your own, or give your house a spring clean. You never know what alcoholic delights might be gathering dust in a corner.


If you’re moving house be especially sure to check for rogue bottles. You wouldn’t want the next occupants to enjoy it at your expense.