Love in the Time of Covid

Celebrating Valentine's Day 2021

Image: Shannon Clegg

We persuaded LCW’s Founder to pick up his pen again for our February Newsletter.

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Valentine’s Day is one of those moments that creep up on me, catching me unprepared. Worst case, I’ve committed to a business trip, more often than not just cut it too fine. At least the former gaffe hasn’t been possible this year. For some reason though, I’ve been obsessing for weeks about what to do for this 14th February. Maybe because we’re all more aware of the central place love and our loved ones play in our lives. Plus during Lockdown any excuse to have a celebration, big or small, at least in our household.

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Image: The Waterhouse Project 

The Waterhouse Project At Home. £157 for two (including wine)

Dinner on the 14th is non-negotiable. For those who normally go out (we don’t, as faux-romantic menus and a room full of hushed whispering is not our thing), Lockdown has spawned a cornucopia of imaginative and delicious delivery options from enterprising local restauranteurs. For those of you in London, this is one of the best meal kits around – and can feed up to eight, so perfect for spreading the Love. The beetroot looks especially enticing, both baked and in the macaroons. Gauthier also do a great home option, especially The Vegan Box – which can be delivered nationwide.

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Image: Forman & Field 

H. Forman & Son Wild River Tweed Smoked Salmon. Half pound pack, £99.50

Cooking something special for that special person is wonderful at any time of year. But you don’t want to be slaving over the stove or, even worse, experimenting with a new recipe. So I suggest something simple, which you know well and can get on the table with minimum fuss and maximum attention on your Loved One. Plus this year, for those of us in multi-generational households, there’s no romantic dinner-for-two option, so easy ways to feed everyone are even more important. Hard to go wrong then starting with smoked salmon. But, as with so much else, there is a world of difference between the standard supermarket stuff and this wild salmon from Lance Forman’s pink Smokery on the banks of the Lea. Most people assume that Scotland is the ancient home of smoked salmon as well as the fish itself but actually it was immigrants like the Formans who brought the knowledge and skills of how to smoke fish with them when they arrived in the East End. I think I am right in saying Forman’s is one of the last, if not the last, from those days. The Forman farmed version is also good and much more affordable. Although if, like me, you prefer a leaner salmon, Secret Smokehouse, who are relative newcomers also keeping up the East End tradition, do a spectacularly natural and fresh farmed fish.

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Image: Laurent-Perrier 

Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Alexandra Rosé. Hedonism Wines, £215

Image: Nyetimber

Nyetimber 1086 Rosé Prestige Cuvée, £175

Keeping the food simple, means you can double down on the wine. A sparkling rosé is essential for Valentine’s Day and never more so than this year. I am biased but these two wines are outstandingly good examples in their own different ways. Maybe serve both and start the evening as you mean to go on. Both Houses also do a standard rosé, which is far from standard but easier on the wallet.

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Mary Berry’s Best Brownies Ever Recipe. From Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook, £30

Making something for your loved ones has become a sort of leitmotif of this Covid-year. So Valentine’s is another excuse to rustle up something sweet and ideally chocolaty. I made Mary Berry’s Very Best Chocolate Fudge cake last week for my younger son’s birthday but did something wrong, which was almost terminal and required all my pothole-repairing skills (plus lots of extra icing and Apricot jam). This is also from La Berry but somewhat more straightforward and just as delicious. I think brownies should be chewy, so my top tip is to add 50g of ground almonds. And take them out of the oven five minutes early.

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Image: Bread Ahead

Bread Ahead E-Learning Class: Doughnuts. £25 per person | 2.5 hours

Even better than making something with love for those you love is to make things together with them, especially if the whole family can get involved. The challenge of course is not being able to do this physically and so not being able to see what others are doing, especially when things go wrong (which is always how I learn). The good news is that Bread Ahead, with whom my son Hugo and I have learnt how to make bagels, pretzels, focaccia and all things that start with a levain, run this and other online courses. Participants download an E-workshop with recipes, ingredients and an equipment list. They can then join a live Zoom session with one of Bread Ahead’s bakers who guide them step-by-step through the process. And notch up another Covid-skill, in this case the healing power of doughnuts.

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Image: Sian Evans Jewellery

Bespoke Recycled Jewellery from Sian Evans

We tend towards exchanging tokens rather than something big but if you are someone who likes to give something more substantial on the Feast of Saint Valentine, then Sian Evans’s Bespoke Upcycling service, despite sounding somewhat municipal and utilitarian, is a lovely idea and a practical way to breathe new life into little used jewellery.

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Image: Rosa de la Cruz/ Matches Fashion

Diamond and Gold Antique Coin Pendant. Rosa de la Cruz at Matches Fashion, £1,270

Likewise, setting old coins into contemporary jewellery has a long tradition and has been going through a resurgence recently, especially over the past year. Such a brilliant way to literally wear some history, particularly when the numismatic value is as much or more than the piece itself. This is at the fashion-end of the spectrum and an easy wearable example. For those who want to get a tad more serious, check out the wonderful classics from the 60’s, which come up for auction reasonably often. Or start with the coin with the help of a specialist dealer like Baldwin’s and commission your own piece.

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Image: Two Rivers Paper

Four Sheet Pack of Full Imperial Oatmeal-tinted Rag Tub-Sized Watercolour Paper. Two Rivers Paper, £60

For as long as I can remember I’ve had a weakness for beautiful paper. This year even more so, with any occasion, however minor, marked by something papery. I’ve even been trying to remember my prep school watercolour classes. Pre-Covid, every trip to Tokyo I stocked up on stationary supplies, especially from the Ginza Itoya. But with these now running low, I rediscovered my family’s favourite, Smythson’s. I’ve been missing G F Smith’s wonderful Eastcastle Street showroom, where they feature an eye-dazzling range of papers, including those from James Cropper, who’ve been making paper continuously in their mill in the Lake District since 1845 (and used to supply the paper for our LCW guide). At the other end of the spectrum, Jim Pattison (who was the Heritage Craft Association’s Maker of the Year 2019) and Neil Hopkins, with one apprentice, Zoe Collis, are the craftspeople behind Two Rivers Paper who handmake papers for artists and designers in Somerset.

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One Day Introductory Calligraphy Course with Patricia Lovett MBE

Despite my love of paper, pens and wet ink, my card-making and letter writing is always let down by my illegible scribbles. So if someone was to give me a beginners Calligraphy course like this I would be scratching away at my Copperplate before you could say nib. Although I imagine my entry and exit strokes would need some considerable practice at home before being good enough for anything other than the Ocado list.

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Image: Woman In Real Life

Cricut Joy. John Lewis, £159.99

In a burst of Christmas card-making enthusiasm, I bought one of these mini bundles of joy for my partner Manoon. I’m ashamed to say, we’ve both been so busy since then that it remains in its box, as yet unused. Hopefully we can christen it for the 14th.

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Image: FLOWERBX

Large Pink Lady Orchid. FLOWERBX, £70

Finally, let’s not forget the flowers. Goodness knows what Government Guidance is on how to keep fresh flowers Covid-free but anyway better give a plant, as there’s something special about bringing something living into the home. And this beautiful orchid from Walpole Brand of Tomorrow FLOWERBX, will not only bloom for ages but do so again in six months or so if looked after properly.

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Image: Shannon Clegg

Bouquet, Shannon Clegg, £450 

Or for an alternative, Shannon Clegg’s wonderful sculptural pieces can be bought or commissioned for something different and beautiful. Maybe there’s even a way to make your Valentine’s flowers last by picking up a few tips from Shannon (who will be exhibiting at LCW this year) on how to dry and press flowers.

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Image: Franchi

Principe Borghese da Appendere Tomato Seeds. Franchi Seeds, £2.69

To finish on the renaissance theme, why not give a pack or two of these seeds, as February isn’t too early to get propagating. Just make sure to get the right varieties, as it’s pointless to go to all the effort and end up with fruit that is no better than what you can get at the supermarket. Franchi is my go-to veg seed supplier, I just hope Brexit hasn’t made getting them too complicated this year.

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Featured image courtesy of Shannon Clegg  

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