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From stable yards to ancient abbeys, the National Trust has Christmas markets taking place all over the country, perfect for picking up last minute locally sourced gifts and eco stocking fillers.

Spend time soaking up the festive atmosphere, enjoy the scent of hot chestnuts and warming mulled wine, or join with a spot of carol singing and treat the kids to a visit from Santa.

Here’s the top pick of National Trust’s Christmas markets…

Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

Christmas Food Market, 7-11 December 10.30am-4.30pm

A good opportunity to stock up with all those Christmas supplies.  There is something for everyone including fresh ducks and local lamb, homemade Christmas cakes, sweets and biscuits, chutneys and specialist cheeses, fresh pies and puddings. Why not complete your outing with a viewing of the Christmas displays in the Manor, which has an Italian theme this year – booking in advance advisable to avoid disappointment.

Normal admission charges apply to manor, admission to market is free of charge.

Booking is not required for this event.

For more information please call 01296 653226.

Ham House and Garden, Surrey

Christmas fair, 17-18 December 11am – 5pm

The popular Christmas fair returns to Ham House. Find exciting and original Christmas gift ideas from the National Trust and from local artisans and traders. The fair takes place in a marquee. There will also be family activities and entertainment in the basement of the house and the Orangery will be open all day for seasonal refreshments.

Adult £3.65, child £2.45 and family £9.75 (2 adults + 2 children). National Trust members go free. Admission fee includes the family activities.

Booking is not required for this event

For more information please call 020 8940 1950.

Blickling Estate, Norfolk

Christmas at Blickling, 17-18 December 11am – 5pm

This year you are invited to the big house for a traditional Christmas. Come and be welcomed at the door by characters from the past and enter a grand country house beautifully decorated for the festive season. A new trail of decorated Christmas trees and lights leads you through the garden to the Temple where Father Christmas awaits. The Christmas Courtyard houses a marquee, with festive crafts and seasonal snacks and drinks. Christmas trees, wreaths and greenery are for sale beside garden gifts, hot chestnuts and seasonal delights.

Traditional Christmas lunches will be available each weekend, and music and entertainment will ensure you leave full of festive cheer.

Free entry to the Christmas courtyard and craft marquee, shop, restaurant and bookshop. House and garden normal admission charges apply.

Booking is not required for this event.

For more information please call 01263 738030.

Erddig, Wrexham

Christmas market and winter wonderland, 10-11 & 17-18 December 10am – 5pm

Enjoy a traditional Christmas market with food and drink, plus live music creating a wonderful Christmas shopping experience. Wander around and find those special and unusual Christmas presents. Browse over fifty picturesque wooden chalets and stalls offering hand-crafted gifts. Father Christmas will also be in his winter wonderland – complete with his toy workshop.

Adults pay £1 to enter the market, children are free but there is a £5 charge for children to meet Father Christmas.

Booking is not required for this event

For more information please call 01978 355314.

Gibside, Tyne & Wear

Festive food and craft market, Saturday 17 December, 10am – 3pm

Come for Christmas gifts and a festive atmosphere at Gibside this December.  We’ll have tasty seasonal foods, local crafts, roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and live music.

Free entry to market, normal admission charges to estate.

Booking is not required for this event

For more information please call 01207 541820.

Whether you are looking to kick start your new year’s healthy eating regime, or just want to rid your body of its unwanted toxins, a detox diet is a great step in the right direction.   With the added benefit of decreasing cellulite, improving your skin, and the prospect of banishing bloating forever, it is no wonder many are trying their hand at the detox diet.

 

However, if you’re lacking in the culinary skills, or just fancy a night off cooking, why not head down to Amico Bio, London’s only vegetarian organic restaurant, situated in the heart of London’s Square Mile.   If healthy eating and detoxifying is top of your agenda for 2011, then do your taste buds a favour and visit this acclaimed Italian vegetarian restaurant.  Welcoming, cosy, and offering all the warmth of a typical Italian trattoria, this is one restaurant not to be missed.

Italian chef Pasquale Amico, who has trained at multi Michelin star winning restaurants in Italy and the UK, prides himself on cooking delicious healthy food all year round.  The ex-Locanda Locatelli head chef is a whizz at putting together balanced, great-tasting menus of simple, natural ingredients that won’t damage your waistline.

Non-vegetarians will be impressed too by a beautifully balanced and terrific value menu that shows off the superb organic produce brought over from Amico’s family farm in Campania. No dull, ‘second best’ vegetarian options here – just freshly made, original and seasonal Italian cooking that just happens to be vegetarian.  Recently becoming a vegetarian himself, Pasquale says “you don’t have to be a vegetarian to eat vegetarian, and Italian cuisine offers come of the best meat-free dishes”.

On my recent visit, I was fortunate enough to try the special detox menu, which I found to be very tasty and surprisingly quite filling, but without the uncomfortable “time to undo the belt buckle” feeling.

Detoxing the Amico way begins with a freshly squeezed glass of orange and carrot juice which, for me, took a little getting used to at first, but after a few hearty sips it went down a treat and was very refreshing.  This is followed by a choice of Minestrone or Insalata di Patate, Spinaci, Ravanelli e Finocchi (Salad of Potatoes, Spinach, Red Radish and Fennel), I had the latter.  The flavours in the salad were wonderful, the fennel was very complimentary to the other ingredients, and even though there was no meat on the plate, I found I was filled adequately by the meal.  Dessert comprised of baked ‘Annurca’ Apple, accompanied by a choice of tea or coffee – decaffeinated too, if you prefer!   I was really impressed with the food, the service, and the staff, and most importantly, the price!  The entire menu costs just £13.50 per person.

 

With valentine’s day round the corner, if you’re looking for somewhere to take your loved one for a special meal, Amico Bio have also devised a valentines menu comprising of a 4 course meal at  £30.00 – including a glass of organic prosecco and tea or coffee in the price. Vegan and gluten-free options are also available, while the wine list – all organic and vegetarian, also includes some vegan choices.

Amico Bio is open from Monday to Friday, from noon to 10.30pm and on Saturday from 5pm to 10.30pm. To make a reservation at Amico Bio, please call the restaurant on 020 7600 7778. Amico Bio, 44 Cloth Fair, London, EC1A 7JQ, www.amicobio.co.uk

Vegetarian Valentine’s Day Menu

Glass of Prosecco

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Insalata di Arance, Finocchi e Rucola

Salad of Oranges, Fennel and Rockets

 

Tortino di Patate, Funghi e Formaggio

Potato Cake with Mushrooms and Cheese

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Zuppa di Fave Secche Pugliesi Pane al Finocchietto

Dry Broad Beans Soup With Homemade Fennel Seeds Bread

 

Ravioli Ripieni ai Broccoli, Salsa di Patate e Menta

Ravioli Filled With Broccoli, Potato and Mint Sauce

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Seitan Alla Veneziana

Pan-fried Strips of Seitan with Onion and Sage

 

Parmiggiana di Melanzane

Aubergines and Tomato Bake

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Tofu Tiramisu

 

Torta al Cioccolato

Chocolate and Raspberry Tart

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Tea or Coffee

£30

Organic food provides many debates, however it has been proven it is much better for your health. In the industrial revolution there was a need to preserve food, therefore leading organic food to be unsustainable and costly, however since then times have changed and organic food has become a mantra of healthy living.

Organic: top tasty reasons for change
Organic: top tasty reasons for change

If you are thinking of buying organic food, here are 10 reasons why:

More humane and ethical treatment of animals

Organic food is environmentally friendly and raises the ethical manner of food. Animal agriculture produces high amounts of air and water pollution and causes 80% of the world’s annual deforestation. The animals are raised without cruelty and in a freer environment (not factory farmed) leading their products to taste better.

Health

Organic food is much healthier for you as it contains fewer chemicals such as DDT, PCBs and pesticides; this is due to reduced exposure. There is a healthier balance in the soil including crop rotation and specific techniques to improve soil quality instead of controlling the environment with chemicals.

Diversity

Sustainable farms have a wider range or livestock and crops, therefore allowing the consumer more options and choices to add to their diets. This also prevents mass farming and cramped farming conditions.

Factory farms use high amounts of resources

That’s right; they use cheap, non-renewable fossil fuels for producing, transporting, processing and marketing. They rely heavily upon this for the success of their industry; therefore not only producing bad quality products but damaging the environment along with it. On the other hand, organic farms use far less energy, using 70% less than industrial farms and preserve groundwater to reduce pesticide use.

Supporting the farm you buy from

Buying organic food often means you are supporting local farms and businesses rather than supporting multinational food conglomerates. It is also better for your health, community and larger community as a whole.

Taste

Chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Anthony Worrall-Thompson and Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall use organic foods in their recipes because it tastes better and is much better for you.

Environmentally friendly

The soil built up with organic material (aka compost) enriches the ground and prevents erosion. Enriched soil means more nutrient rich foods, which is better for our health. Natural micro-flora of soil contains innumerable micro-organisms is washed off, losing its capacity to retain water and tolerate high saline conditions.

GM Free

Genetically Modified (GM) crops and ingredients are not allowed under organic standards. No one knows the full impact of GM crops yet, but some crops can prove irritable to palates and health.

High Standards

Organic farms have to be inspected at least once a year and maintain high standards in order to maintain their status. Standards are laid down by European Law, meaning that the standard must stay consistent throughout the EU.

Ecological balance and energy savings

Planting organic is the best option as there is no pesticide use or harmful chemical use. Energy saved by chemical industries contributes in reducing global warming. Therefore you should think twice before you buy. People are encouraged to reap the benefits of what you have planted – “as you sow, you shall reap.”