Christmas gift guide 2021

You would think that finding wonderful gifts for family and friends would be an easy ask in the virtual ‘shopping mall’ online. The Christmas marketing season is upon us but with so much choice it can actually make choosing the right present more challenging, with hours spent peering at your mobile screen trying to find the best deals.

I’ve gone back over the past year to find the best books I’ve read, foods I couldn’t get enough of and delicious wines you might not have heard of. Here’s the Hashtagtravelling.uk guide to thoughtful and sustainable Christmas gifts in Santa’s virtual grotto.

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Christmas Around the World: Tokyo

“Are you all set for Christmas?” It’s a common refrain from now until 24th December. Christmas-related anxiety has become the accepted ‘norm’. And if the only date in your calendar for December is the holiday bin collection service, it can feel as though everyone else in the world is out partying every night, except you.

Welcome to the third feature in a new festive series where I invite favourite Instagrammers from around the world to share their stories on how they spend the Holiday Season. This week I interview award-winning travel writer, Rob Goss, about a typical Christmas in Tokyo.

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Christmas Around The World: NSW, Australia

Welcome to the second in a new festive feature series where I invite Instagram pals from around the world to share their festive stories.

Now in the second week of November and the advertising campaigns on social media, TV, glossy magazines etc are in full swing. With over-spending developed to an unrealistic level of ‘normal’, it can be hard to resist feeling like the ‘odd-one-out’ if you’re not working up to a frenzy of shopping anxiety and party planning by mid-December.

But here’s the thing, Christmas is what you choose to make it. Push the boat out or spend the day in bed, your choice. There are no rules.

On with the storytelling. This week I ask Nina Tobin, who lives in New South Wales and likes to hang out with ‘Ma Nature’… How do you spend Christmas?

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Christmas Around the World: the South of France

‘Twas the week before Christmas when I moved into a new house a few years back. For a number of reasons I found myself home alone on the Big Day unpacking boxes (with a glass of champagne to hand, naturally). It was a lot of fun but many (including the removal man) were appalled that I chose to spend the day on my own.

Advertising around Christmas-related products and services begins in early autumn in the UK. Planning (travel, food, gifts and sparkly clothes) and the related over-spending has been developed to an unrealistic level of ‘normal’. Now, a little sparkle goes along way in the dark winter months, but by mid December it can be hard not to feel like the ‘odd-one-out’ if you’re not seen to be tearing your hair out in a frenzy of anxiety over Secret Santa at the office, gift-buying for the family, and stuffing the turkey. And, as the marketing campaigns indicate, your calender must surely be choc-full with a host of fabulous parties to attend.

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Review: Cooking With Heroes

The Royal British Legion is marking 100 years (1921-2021) with a new cookbook featuring recipes by personnel with contributions from, celebrity cooks and chefs.

The first thing to say about Cooking With Heroes is that it’s a very ambitious book at 470 pages. A tome both in terms of content and weight, it requires both hands to hold it up to read. The recipes appear by regions from Armagh to Zimbabwe, Essex to The Gambia, and Hampshire to New Zealand. There are favourites (Hello, Welsh rarebit!) and posh fish ‘n’ chips and other recipes, for instance, potato and apple bread, contributed by Chief Petty Officer John Potts, Royal Navy (Retired). Add to the mix personal stories, snippets of history and stunning photography and the wide appeal of this book will solve many Christmas gift shopping dilemmas. Or add it to your own Letter to Santa.

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Wild Food: Foraging on Cowdray Estate

While man has foraged for food since time began, in the mid 20th century before pre-commerical snacks and fast food had been invented, it was also a given that you searched the hedgerows for juicy autumn blackberries, elderberries, hazlenuts, windfall apples and plums. During my childhood eating nose to tail, and field to plate, was the everyday, rather than the trend. Food tastes so good when you’ve grown it or foraged for it.

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This week… chimney tops, ration books and guardian angels

Every September heritage houses, museums and other buildings throw open their doors to the public. Entry and tours are free despite the work of many of these organisations being independently funded, so a donation is welcome. The nationwide Heritage Open Days festival closes today and I took the opportunity take a peek behind the scenes over the nine-day event in Winchester. Here’s what I discovered.

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These are a few of my favourite (autumnal) things

The early mornings are now cooler but by late morning the light mists burn off to reveal the atmospheric, pale autumn sunlight. The leaves on the trees are just beginning to turn colour, with a promise of blazing reds and burnt oranges soon to come. In the UK you need to pace yourself though because spring is a long way off. Celebrating the changing seasons is a form of mindfulness or meditation. Taking things slowly, enjoying the simple daily pleasures of changing landscapes and seasonal food, autumn is a time of year to truly indulge the senses.

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Exploring Britain: Cowdray Heritage Ruins

The history of one of the most important early Tudor houses in the UK is threaded through a Civil War, Henry VIII’s Reformation, and a devastating fire which all but destroyed the beautiful Cowdray House in 1793. This week I joined a tour around the ruins and ventured up the 70-odd spiral steps of the Kitchen Tower, the only part of the building still intact. Walking in the footsteps of history is always a slightly spooky experience and brings out the goosebumps.

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This week… olives, growing, buying and cooking

There are a few basics in the kitchen that are really not worth stinting on. Single-estate coffee, honey and olive oil being in the top ten. The cost may be a little higher but a little goes a long way and quality over quantity is the rule. This week a common thread in my inbox has been olives, growing them and eating these delectable little fruits.

One of the first fascinating facts about olive trees is the remarkable age they are able to grow to and especially compared to mere human beings. It’s awesome.

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