A Second Year In Photos: A Golden-Diamond-Jub-Olympic Summer

Let’s be honest, we’re never going to have another summer like 2012. Not only have parts of the country gone from being drought-stricken to being underwater, but we had the second ever British Diamond Jubilee (Victoria’s was the other one, if you’re wondering) and London made history as the first city to hold the Olympic Games for the third time. In tribute to this once-in-a-lifetime summer I’ve decided that day 4 of A Second Year In Photos is to be dedicated to celebrating our Jub-Olympic summer (as horrific a name as that is) and inspiring a generation.

Despite the official anniversary being in February, it was decided (presumably because of the trustworthiness of the British weather) that all of the official celebrations would take place over a long weekend in June. Obviously this meant that it rained for a large part of that weekend, but with a bit of stiff upper lip and our handy collections of waterproofs we made it through.

I was in the little Yorkshire village of Bramham for the weekend visiting a friend (tall tales over here) where we were lucky enough to catch a bit of sun for a very British tea party in the street. It was certainly an entertaining weekend, even if some of my memories are a little hazy (I blame whoever thought drinking G&Ts from a pint glass was a good idea).Bunting down the High Street, Bramham.After the right royal piss-up that was the Jubilee, we geared ourselves up once again to invite the whole world to come and have a snoop round the country. Despite ‘scandals’ about security, budgets and all the political back-fighting, the Olympics were an outstanding success for the UK – both on and off the medal table. I was lucky enough to follow in my great uncle’s footsteps (him and my great aunt having been at the last London Olympics back in 1948) and got to go down and soak up some of the atmosphere. My friend and I ‘only’ had tickets for a day of the tennis (although Olympic Wimbledon Centre Court tickets aren’t exactly something to be sniffed at), but we spent the week revelling in the Olympic spirit (gin, obviously) – even managing to watch the men’s 20km road walk race outside Buckingham Palace. I had an incredible time in London that week, and became an expert in so many sports and members of Team GB.

The Olympic Rings became a familiar site to most Britons over the course of the summer – the closest set to me being the ones in Edinburgh, and of course the Paralympic Agitos afterwards – but the rings on the Thames were also pretty special.

Olympic rings and St Paul'sAlthough not quite as impressive as my favourite set – those on Tower Bridge.

Tower bridge and the Olympic RingsI don’t think I really need to say that I had a fantastic time during all our celebrations this year, so it seems only fair to give them their own special day here.

Leading on from the Jub-Olympics, tomorrow’s A Year In Photos will be more of my favourite holiday snaps from this year.


A Second Year In Photos: Instagrammers (Not So) Anonymous

One of this year’s regular features only started back at the end of April, but since then it’s happened almost every Friday; it is, of course, Instagrammers Anonymous. When I got my iPhone in April one of the first apps I downloaded was Instagram, and the addiction has flowed from that moment on. It’s slightly pathetic, I fully admit, but it’s so easy (and addictive) to take your phone out, take an average photo and make it look more fun with a simple filter. It’s certainly a lot quicker than using a camera and spending an age doing the same thing on photoshop! Over the last six months there have been pets and parties, cakes and castles, gin and *insert something beginning with G (excluding giraffe) here*. Basically, you name it, it’s been there. It seemed only right, therefore, to let Instagrammers Anonymous retain its usual Friday spot and make it day 3 of A Second Year In Photos.

Hello, my name’s Craig and I’m an Instagramming-aholic.

Following the success of the lime and chilli gin and other exciting home-flavoured alcohols I decided to refill my empty Raspberry Edinburgh Gin bottle with my own version of the scarlet nectar. Once bottled it… uhm… evaporated… very quickly…raspberry gin in a bottle with label

The following is one of the first photos I took with Instagram. And to this day remains one of my favourites (nothing like starting well and going downhill from there). It is, of course, of Keira, and until the delightful catastrophe that was me updating to iOS6 it was my phone’s background image.
Instagram, iPhone 4S, Keira

Tomorrow it’s time to celebrate the Jub-Olympic summer!


Gin, Cheese and Laughter: Adventures at the Edinburgh Foodies Festival

Let’s face it, I just can’t be trusted when it comes to events involving food. Or gin. The bad idea bears just take over. But then again, a weekend of wine, gin, cheese, cooking demos and then a bit more gin is a heck of a lot of fun. Yes, it was Foodies Festival time once again.

Having encountered 6 litre bottles of Hendrick’s and much more besides when I went last year it was a certainty that I would be getting tickets again this time round. But this year I got one better online with the three-day ticket – not just one day of supreme over indulgence, a whole weekend. Win. Sadly though, I could only use Saturday and Sunday – but for the sake of my wallet and liver, that’s probably not such a bad thing, even if it was moved to Inverleith Park this year and I could walk there.

Open coconut with a straw at it.I made a rash promise at the end of last year’s blog post saying that when I went this year I would focus more on the food – not the wine and gin – and you’ll, of course, be overjoyed that I stuck to my guns and didn’t drink a drop. Who am I kidding, I almost forgot about the food again. That might have something to do with our rum-filled coconut on Saturday afternoon, although I can’t quite recall…

That’s not entirely true, I tried samples from many companies – mainly those relating to cheese – as well as lunch of a kangaroo burger with spicy tomato relish and rocket (Skippy loves a good bit of rocket) and a hog roast roll (not both on the same day, I should add). I even ended up buying some cheese, shock horror.

Smoked fish in a shed smokerThe foodies festival has now been around for quite a few years, and is growing in size and popularity every year. And it’s really not hard to see why. This year there were over 100 stalls, ranging for tiny little artisan producers right up to recognisable national brands. There were also a few off-the-wall stalls as well, such as the seaweed selling man with three teeth and a woman selling “her precious cultures” who couldn’t understand why we weren’t more interested in making our own version of Yakult…

Interestingly (/upsettingly) I would say that there were fewer gin companies there this year – the lack of a Hendrick’s stand being particularly notable – but they made up for it with more unusual culinary stalls, like those selling ‘homemade’ Thai curry and satay kits (they were delicious, even if their paper cup did rip and give my t-shirt an interesting coloured stain). There were also some of the big name sponsors there too – not quite sure how many cars BMW sold, but I wouldn’t bet on too many – as well as a few ‘pop-up’ restaurants and Lavazza coffee, whose samples I will be drinking for a long time to come.

The less formal eating stalls, all conveniently in a row up the back, ranged from noodles to crepes, via hog roasts, jerk chicken and kangaroo – each of which was equally tempting, making it rather hard to choose which to go for. It also made me feel slightly sorry for the man selling burgers, which seemed a little tame by comparison. I later learnt they were wild boar and venison, and then didn’t feel quite so bad for him.

I’ll gloss over some of the details or I’ll be here forever, but like last year I advise you avoid Cassilero del Diablo at all costs, owing to its disgusting taste, and would recommend that unless you like peaty whisky don’t opt for Black Grouse. We also avoided the stand selling cakes that were ‘free-from’ pretty much every ingredient that makes a proper cake. We did, however, make friends with a couple that owned a farm (she was an ecologist, he a zoologist by degree) and made wonderful sausages, the man that owns the gorgeous Edinburgh Gin (we did taste the elderflower and the raspberry about twice each, and I might have accidentally come home with a bottle of the Elderflower), and the people from the Cheshire Cheese Company (their presence makes their following me on Twitter last week slightly less odd) who have a sticky toffee cheddar – shouldn’t work, but it really does – and a caramelised onion and Rioja ‘gourmet cheddar’ which has found its way into my fridge and lunch for the next couple of days. My favourite stall, however, has to be the company who have – genuinely – named themselves ‘I Heart Sausage’. And if that weren’t amusing enough to my immature sense of humour, they have a variety of sausage called – I kid you not – the ‘Chucklesnort’. Try keeping a straight face when talking to them after a few gin samples…

I commented last year that I thought the theatre events were a bit rubbish, because it seemed impossible to get tickets; well this year we cracked the system. It involved a bit of queueing, pretending that we were two sets of people, not part of the same group, and going back a little later and picking up whatever was there. Through this we went to see Norman Musa (a Malaysian chef), someone from Callander who used the words Stephen K Amos at Foodies Festival‘blanched’ and ‘OK’ far more often than was necessary, Steve from the Ning Chinese restaurant, the founder of the Backyard Jerk Company (who make Jamaican jerk sauces), a bartender/mixologist from Hendrick’s and Stephen K Amos. Not too bad a haul.

The three of those worth mentioning are definitely the last three. The Backyard Jerk Company were the last thing we did on Saturday and – once we got over the initial introduction of the Welsh accent – was great fun. Informative, entertaining and the food tasted fantastic. Sunday started of with Stephen K Amos, billed as ‘chef and comedian’, which rapidly turned out to be more accurately titled as ‘comedian’. I have never laughed so much in a cooking demo in my life. He was hilarious, and I’m pretty sure we’ll be going to see his Fringe show soon. Our last event was a short history of gin and cocktails, from the wonderful Hendrick’s. Plagued a little by technical problems and the guy knocking stuff over, this lighthearted hour about gin was one of my favourite parts of the weekend – informative without facts being rammed down your throat, seamlessly funny, and of course full of gin cocktails.

Sitting on the hill above Inverleith pond, gazing out towards Edinburgh Castle with our plate of churros and dipping chocolate on Sunday evening, the pair of us had a good laugh about the weekend. Yes, we probably drank a little more than necessary, and it’s true that we probably took advantage of the free samples a little too much in some places (especially the ones we didn’t buy anything from); however, that’s what these sorts of festivals are all about – good, honest food and drink without pretentiousness, for those who love them. A fantastic weekend, well worth the food-and-drink-induced stupor that I watched the Olympic Closing Ceremony in and had through most of today at work. When can we get tickets for next year?


Instagrammers Anonymous: Another Busy Week

Another really odd week this week, but it’s gone by in a flash. From being in Callander and St Andrews last weekend, to preparing to go down to London tomorrow for the Olympics – they start tonight, had you heard? The media’s been pretty quiet about it, so you’d be forgiven for not realising – I feel like I haven’t stopped.

Ahead of trains, tennis, a certain 5 rings and drinking raspberry gin that will no doubt make up next week’s summary here’s this week in pictures – Instagrammers Anonymous – featuring the dog, and raspberry gin.

The dog proved her intellectual capabilities with a book on lemurs and Madagascar.Dog reading a book, instagram

This view brought a massive smile to my face.Welcome to st andrews signI bottled up my home made raspberry gin – helpfully editing the bottle’s original label and replacing it’s former contents.raspberry gin in a bottle with label

And to round it all off I made some muffins from the gin-soaked raspberries and glazed them with some of the actual gin.raspberry gin muffin

Fear not – it is almost the weekend, and I have a week off! Win. Oh, and it’s the Olympics! (not sure I’ve mentioned it enough). Whatever you are up to in the next few days I hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am looking forward to tonight’s opening ceremony and my trip to London.





Raise a Glass to World Gin Day!

Peoples of the world rejoice, for today is the 9th June and this can mean but one thing: it is World Gin Day!

Yes, an entire day devoted to the stuff of wonder that is gin. Be it Hendrick’s, Chilli and Lime, Pineapple, a cocktail, or some of my latest purchase – Raspberry Edinburgh Gin – I think it’s fair to say that I am quite a fan.

There’s only one way to celebrate this wonderful day, and that’s to sit back and sip a  glorious G&T.

Edinburgh Raspberry Gin, in a bottle and a glass.