Christmas shopping should be such a pleasure – finding the ideal gifts for your loved ones and anticipating their pleasure in them – but the reality is often far more stressful with time, budget and practical constraints that often get in the way.
The response to last year’s gift guide was wonderful so here once again are my favourite picks for 2012.
You’ll notice a strong Japanese influence to my selection this time, though there are plenty of other ideas too.
At the John Lewis Christmas preview this summer, my favourite products were the five Kokeshi Doll Japanese tree ornaments (£3.50 each). The Origami Kimono ornaments (£4 each) and Chinese Lucky Cat ornaments (£3.50 each) are also cute. They all remind me of the charms I bought in Japan, for attaching to mobile phones or handbags.
How cute are these Koziol Kasimir Cheese Graters (£9), available in red or black from John Lewis?
Amazon has a huge array of titles on Japan, from personalised accounts of life and culture to alternative travel guides to cookery books, here’s my wishlist selection. (I’ve used affiliate links).
How can I not love these penguin salt and pepper shakers (£20) from Culture Label, given the trips south I’ve taken to visit my penguin friends?
We considered buying a couple of the moulded plastic models of food that restaurants display in their windows during our visit to Tokyo’s Kappabashi Dori but found them too expensive. These Iwako Food Erasers from the Japan Centre are far more affordable and a fun stocking filler for adults and children alike. Each set is £4.99 each, with some currently reduced to £4.49. There’s a Kokeshi Dolls and Cats set too.
Is it a pie or a plate? It’s a Pie Plate (£29.50) from Culture Label.
Having reviewed several books this year, these are the ones I recommend above the rest:
This is very similar to the one I bought myself as a tacky but fun souvenir from Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. From Japan Centre, £8.90.
One of the few chocolates Pete and I both enjoy over Christmas are Lindt Lindor balls so we really liked their Christmas Maxi Ball (a clear plastic ball containing over 40 individual Lindor truffles), which I was given at their Christmas preview over summer. Priced at £14.99 from Tesco or directly from Lindt’s website. Pete also likes two of the alternative Lindor flavours, Stracciatella and White Chocolate. I am happier with Hazelnut ones or the original. You can also get Dark and Irish Cream flavours.
Yuzu citrus has a very distinctive taste, and one that reminds me very strongly of childhood, which is strange as I hadn’t been to Japan until this year, and wasn’t exposed to Japanese food until adulthood. I wonder if it’s an Indian citrus that it reminds me of? Regardless, it’s completely different from regular lemons and limes and is a flavour I really adore. Here’s a round up of yuzu products from Japan Centre.
Nakatashokuhin Umeshu Plum Wine Lliqueur with Yuzu Citrus £33.17 / 750 ml)
Sanwa Iichiko Bar Yuzu Liqueur (£15.40 / 500 ml – hoping someone will buy this for me this Christmas!)
Nishimoto Shokuhin Non-oil Yuzu Pepper Dressing (£5.25 / 100 ml)
Ikari Yuzu Citrus Salad Dressing (£2.07 / 200 ml)
I came across Joe and Sephs flavoured popcorns at this year’s BBC Good Food Show, inspired by trips to the US where Joseph Sopher became increasingly fond of gourmet popcorn. Since then, he’s perfected his own technique for applying a caramel coating to popcorn, and created a range of familiar and more unusual flavours many of which have been recognised by the Great Taste Awards. Most pouches are 80 or 90 grams and you can choose any 3 for £12 or 6 for £19.95.
For a Japanese influence in the garden, how about a beautiful Japanese maple or Japanese cherry tree? The Garden Centre Group have a wide range on offer and have stores nationwide.
Do you love lego? I do, though I have friends who love it even more. I am sure they’d appreciate this Lego Drinking Bottle (£6.80), also available in other colours. It’s made from plastic, and Amazon reviews suggest built quality is not great, so it may not last long, but would make a fun stocking filler gift for a lego fiend.
Sous Chef is a new online cookware, ingredients and books vendor launched by a food enthusiast I originally met on twitter and have since come to know as a friend. Nicola and husband Nick have collated a fabulously desirable selection of treats from simple but specialist ingredients to ones more commonly used by molecular gastronomists, from good quality knives to obscure but exciting equipment and recipe books too. Here are my recommendations, for Japanese and non-Japanese items, though I suggest you have a jolly good browse of the entire site:
Japanese Ramen Bowl Set (£34)
Japanese Knife Trio (£60)
Soy Sauce Pouring Pot (£12)
Miso Soup Kit (£25)
Yuzu Powder (£9.50)
Green Yuzu Juice (£11)
Umeboshi Plums (£5.50)
Cep Powder (£3.80)
Lazybone have a fun selection of mugs including two versions of Camera Lens Mugs (£14.99 each), which appeal to my inner camera geek, the Dr Who Tardis Mug (£13.99), which is super cool and the Twitter Mug (£9.99), which makes me smile.
Master of Malt offer a Japanese whisky tasting set (£34.45), which is a great gift for someone who wants to start drinking Japanese whisky. Alternatively, you can buy whole bottles. Pete suggests the Hibiki 17 Year old, for which he tasted the component whiskies as well as the finished blend.
And if you do buy some whisky, how about a Bladerunner glass to drink it in? It’s one of my all time favourite films, so this whisky glass from Firebox really appeals. I’m less enamoured with the £54.99 price tag!
For a great selection of Japanese tableware, visit Doki, now located in Harrow Weald. I used to love browsing when they had a shop in Oriental City, but found the Wembley Pacific Plaza location less convenient. They’ve now moved again to Middlesex. The online store has a very limited selection to best so visit the shop in person.
Also from Firebox is this OCD Chef Chopping Board (£19.99), marked to help finicky foodies be more precise.
This Pig Cutting Board (£24.40) is rather fun, sold by MyDeco and designed by Catherine Fouchard for Cocobohème.
Image by Kake Pugh, used with permission under non-commercial sharealike Creative Commons licence
I’ve already mentioned Japan Centre and Sous Chef. Another great source for specialist Japanese ingredients is Atari-ya which has several shops in London but doesn’t offer online shopping or mail order. The store in North Finchley is fantastic!
At least half the Lakeland catalogue appeals to many cooking enthusiasts, myself included. I’ll be blogging separately about the cheese making kit items soon but in the meantime, am tempted by Mrs Bridges Ginger Gift Set (£14.99), Maxims Pistachio Macaroon Dessert Chocolates (£5.99) and the Anthon Berg Cherry in Rum Marzipan Chocolates (£5.49). I had lots of fun this summer with the Zoku Quick Ice Pop (Lolly) Maker (£39.99) I was sent to review; I can recommend it! I can also recommend the Cuisinart Electric Pepper Mill (£19.99), which I own and like but haven’t yet reviewed.
I absolutely love these funky bird jars by Swedish designer, Camilla Engdahl. Available from MyDeco Family Little Rose consists of several members, priced between £47 and £80 each, including delivery from Sweden. The more bird-like Chicken Container is £37.60. And the Wagtail Bird Jars are £28.20 each.
Recently I cracked open a bottle of one of my favourite tipples – Pedro Ximénez . This bottle was a gift for my 40th last year, and is particularly excellent. Look out for Harveys Pedro Ximénez VORS; VORS stands for Very Old Rare Sherry. At just £21 a bottle, I think this is seriously good value for a seriously delicious drink and you can find it at Waitrose and Ocado, on Amazon, and other online retailers. Drink as it is or serve over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Lastly, I leave you with the BBQ Donut Boat, which seats up to 10 around a central BBQ grill, has storage under the seats and a sun shade above and has an outboard engine that can run for several hours. A snip at just £20,000!