In association with Red Letter Days
When you think Red Letter Days gift experiences, what do you think?
I have to admit that until a few weeks ago my first thought would have been package spa breaks and track days. Not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things – I like a lounge in a sauna and prosecco lunch as much as the next person – but Red Letter Days is about so much more than that, as I found out when Red Letter Days asked me to choose an experience to, well, experience.
I started off with a browse, which takes a while as there is a LOT to browse. Honestly, I challenge you NOT to find a Christmas gift for just about anyone in your life. I was tempted initially by the London theatre and dinner packages – if you like comedy then I would DEFINITELY recommend this offer for The Play That Goes Wrong – it’s such good fun. Two tickets plus dinner for two for just £109, which is a bit of a bargain.
I liked some of the adrenaline activities too – how cool would it be to take a vintage Tiger Moth over Stonehenge or to undertake a private investigator surveillance mission at London Paddington? (Even though I’m 40 now I still want to believe that one day I will turn into Nancy Drew, the sassy teen detective.)
And then there’s all the food and drink options – I lingered for a long time over the bottomless gin and tonic afternoon tea.
In the end though I opted for a cookery course at River Cottage HQ in Devon. It was well timed for me as I’ve been in a massive cooking rut recently and we’ve been consuming unhealthy amounts of frozen chicken products. I’ve been trying to be more creative, but sometimes you need a bit of a kick up the bum to reignite an interest in something or to make you feel more confident in your own abilities.
Booking the course with my Red Letter Days voucher was easy – there were instructions on the voucher and then contact details for the venue, easy peasy. I packed my selection of Tupperware for leftovers, as advised, and set out for Devon.
I knew the day was going to go well when one of the first things we were told was that there was a bar and that if we wanted any drinks brought to us during the day we just had to ask Steve, and he would sort us out. Needless to say Steve sorted me out with a couple of lovely gin and tonics – the spa day vibe without even needing to hoist myself into a swimming costume.
The one day River Cottage course covers a whole range of cooking techniques, from bread-making to fish filleting, so we started off by getting our dough on the go.
I’ve made bread lots of times before, with varying degrees of success, but it was at River Cottage that I discovered where I normally go wrong – sheer laziness it turns out. (Surprise surprise.) As many times as you hear people say ‘kneading bread is so therapeutic!’ it’s actually quite boring and hard work, and so when I make bread at home I tend to chuck it about for a few minutes and think ‘sod it, that’ll probably do.’ It’s very similar to my approach to exercise come to think of it.
Kneading is a process though, a process involving a lot of stretching and me asking ‘am I done yet?’ It was satisfying though, shaping it into a ball, pulling the dough tight and setting it on the windowsill to prove, knowing I had actually done a decent job for a change.
Also, this view! Slightly rain splattered, but still beautiful.
Although it was only about seven hours in total, and some of that was spent eating, we crammed an awful lot in. We made a steamed fish dish, which involved me filleting a whole Dover sole, (which I did very well even if I do say so myself), an apple tarte tatin with rough puff pastry from scratch, roasted partridge with pickled mushrooms – I even found time to indulge in a few mild, gin-fulled, kitchen-based fantasies about the chef, which I think is totally fine as it has been a long time since I had a boyfriend and he was very good with his hands.
The lovely thing about a River Cottage cookery course is that you get all the fun of cooking and eating, without any of the prep or the washing up. Fresh, locally grown produce had been laid out ready for us, and dirty utensils were whisked away into a magical land, only to return some time later perfectly clean. If cooking at home was more like that and less about having to say ‘don’t forget the dishes’ to Belle every five minutes for about six hours then perhaps I would enjoy it more.
Overall though, the course gave me the kick up the bum that I needed, and I definitely came away not just having had a fun day out, but with a new found excitement about cooking. In the couple of weeks since the course I’ve been doing proper meal planning, trying out new recipes, and getting Belle to eat things like black beans and Chinese leaf lettuce, which is very exciting.
And even better, when we took our bread out of the oven at the end of the day, mine looked pretty good! Turns out you really do need to put in a bit of effort sometimes to reap the rewards.
Check out the Red Letter Days website now for lots of cool Christmas gift ideas.